England find their focal point
December 5, 2012
Stuart Lancaster will now be plotting England's path to the 2015 World Cup after a huge win against the All Blacks © PA Photos
The autumn internationals are only just over, but the focus is already switching to the 2015 World Cup. Following the draw earlier this week, England's pool seems the hardest on paper, but I think it's quite a good group for them. Wales are probably slightly older as a squad than we are and I'm not sure if some of their senior players will still be there in 2015.
In contrast, I think that England will be a lot better situated by the time the tournament comes around than Wales and Australia. And it could have been worse. You could have been playing the Islanders - the World Cups have shown that Tonga and Samoa are becoming more dangerous to play against and they are not bad teams to avoid.
One of the key matches in that pool will be between England and Wales. I saw the comments from Roger Lewis that he reckons Wales should play England in Cardiff. But the Welsh should be mindful of the fact that they have not got a great record at home during a World Cup campaign. Looking forward, I wouldn't think that Wales would play England there but there is every chance they might play a couple of the other group matches in Cardiff.
Elsewhere in the draw, looking at Scotland's pool - Samoa will be a very tough ask to get past. They'll have all of their best players to choose from and they are serious contenders. If they get their set piece right, there are very few sides who can live with their physicality as Wales found out during the autumn Tests. That victory came without winning too much set piece ball but they still looked strong. And Ireland's pool is another difficult group, after being paired with Italy and France, but at least they avoid the southern hemisphere big three.
The 2013 Six Nations will give the teams a chance to size up each other after the November Tests and England will go into the competition riding the crest of the wave after their superb showing against the All Blacks.
It was definitely the best performance from England in the last five years - some people are saying of all time. The key word from it was pressure. They pressurised New Zealand into mistakes that other sides haven't really done. They did it with line speed and intensity in the tackle and the breakdown. They had a collective spirit and belief but there have been some notable individual performances and no more so than Joe Launchbury who was the find of the autumn for Stuart Lancaster.
The difficulty is that had I been writing this seven days ago, then it would be much harder to single out individuals from the whole series. But after that New Zealand game it has changed the mindset. The whole team had a defining day and they can look back at the match as a 'yard stick' rather than a 'springboard'. The term 'springboard' suggests they are going to bounce on to better things but the performance on Saturday is the edge of the pool for this current crop of players. They can never drop below that level of intensity again and they should have the confidence to push on. Only individual performances can halt the ability of this side which is a good place to be.
Before the autumn Tests, there were calls for Nick Easter to come back into the side and I still believe that England lack that little bit of experience around the set-up as shown at the weekend with the fact that Richie McCaw on his own had more caps than the England pack.
But what they have got now is focal point they can look back on which can remind them that in times of difficulty, they can come through together as a group and that is something that they lacked. That is what experience can give you and winning a match such as Saturday's will be a huge benefit for this crop of players. The victory will give England so much more than experiencing four weeks together training as a group - that win is worth a good couple of years in a squad environment.
There will be people reading this saying that we are taking too much from one game, but that one game is such a big turning point as it gives England as a team, as a squad and as a country a lot more hope moving forward. Yes there are lots of technical things England need to improve on and yes they could be a bit more creative, but it was one hell of a performance at the weekend.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Austin Healey is Lead Analyst for ESPN Rugby
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