England's mindset key to greatness
March 10, 2014
England must back themselves if they are to reach the next level © Getty Images
England's victory over Wales was great, but let's not get too carried away. England now need to push on from here and continue building as the World Cup comes ever closer. Yes England beat a very good Wales team, a squad who have been the standout northern hemisphere side for the last few years, but they need to prove it is the start of something special and not just a flash in the pan.
The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?' They have the skill set and the ability but they now need to start believing and wins like Sunday's will help.
It was a win built on emotion from the disappointment of last year, it hurt. And the one thing that shocked me was how bloody nervous I was. England's games against Wales are always extra special and no one really knew how it was going to go.
The weekend's predictions
I tried to sum up after the game exactly where it was won and lost and I was speaking to Gareth Thomas about it, it was tough. Wales did not disgrace themselves but what it boils down for me was that England have taken another step up, there was an endeavour and a will. England did to Wales but Wales usually do to other teams - tackling off the line, using runners well and chopping down opponents. It was workmanlike and there were so many guys who led that, there were no standout players. It was as close to a total team performance we have seen from England for a long while.
Wales had a go but the way England suffocated them meant they had no momentum with Leigh Halfpenny's boot keeping them in the game, I reckon he could make those kicks with his eyes closed. England have their own man though in Owen Farrell and I'd have loved to play with him, he's just so steady.
The front-row also deserves some praise. Joe Marler has learnt his hard lessons of last year and has moved forward. When you lose games you then have to put things right and he has done that. Davey Wilson has been immense considering how little rugby he has played over the last few months. The coaches have to take some credit in how they have developed this front-row. Alex Corbisiero and Dan Cole, their traditional first-choice props have been injured, but these guys are playing with confidence and that is in part down to what is happening behind the scenes.
The attention will now shift to Rome for England and regardless of what happens later on in Paris, they just need to focus on winning. Italy will be harrowing England at every breakdown and attempting to put them on the back foot. England must show Italy some respect as they have some good runners.
I have great memories of playing against and with Brian O'Driscoll © Getty Images
Lancaster faces a tough mission this week. He needs to decide whether to go out all guns blazing or whether to set up to the win the game and then try and exploit any tiredness late on to add to the points difference. For me, England must put Italy under pressure, do the hard yards and then look for opportunities rather than just attack from minute one. They must not leave Rome with any regrets; if they get short they will never forgive themselves. If they win, which I expect them to do, they will face an anxious wait to see what happens in Paris as France play Ireland.
I don't have a clue what France are doing at the moment, they are an absolute shambles. I saw the word hate banded around this week and I never hated the French, I quite like them, they have great chefs, but I do not know what their rugby team is doing at the minute. They are either spectacularly brilliantly or spectacularly bad. Of course on their day they can knock over Ireland, but I can't see anything other than an Irish win, they just control the ball so well. If France play against Ireland like they did against Scotland, Ireland will put 30 points on them.
And although I am a very proud Englishman, you could not begrudge Brian O'Driscoll finishing his Test career with a Six Nations title. I would love for him to finish on a high. I remember coming across him in the early days and my memories were of him scoring tries against us. But he's been just a great role model for the game. He's an inspiration, he is tenacious, brave and my best memories of him go back to 2001 when he had not long been on the scene. The things he could do were incredible and the partnerships he forged with Rob Henderson and then Gordon D'Arcy were lethal.
I always respected everyone I played against but for Brian, the highest accolade I can give him is that it was a privilege to play against him and with him.
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