- Lancaster admits New Zealand are the “benchmark”
- England head coach draws belief from 2012 win
Quick to hail New Zealand as the standard-bearers of world rugby, Stuart Lancaster is nevertheless adamant that his players have every reason to believe they can beat the All Blacks this weekend.
England's 31-12 win against Argentina on Saturday was the mirror image of their 20-13 victory against Australia seven days earlier – an inventive, ambitious first half followed by a more stuttering display after the break.
However, Lancaster's charges have won six successive home Tests and know they have it in them to beat Steve Hansen's all-conquering side, having condemned them to a record-breaking 38-21 defeat at Twickenham on December 1 last year. That, though, stands as New Zealand's only loss in 33 internationals and has been followed by 12 straight wins.
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“[Last year] we had great self-belief – we believed we could win and that's one of the key components in any performance,” said Lancaster. “That's what we've tried to instil in the players. When you've got a young group finding their way internationally and you're playing against such an experienced team, you've got to have that belief.
“You've got to be respectful of the quality of the team you're playing. I'm sure everyone goes into games against New Zealand believing they can win. Translating that belief into action and making sure you deliver is the critical thing.
“They are the benchmark. You don't win that many games on the trot – both home and away – and be ranked number one in the world for such a long period, having also won the last World Cup, without being the benchmark. They're always the benchmark and they always manage to rise to the challenge. Our challenge is to make sure we put them under pressure.”
Forever on the lookout for incremental improvements from his side, Lancaster is keen to focus on the lessons England can learn from the Argentina game.
“I think our first-half performance was some of the best rugby we've played,” he added. “In the second half we tried to go and beat them round the outside [without] earning the right to do that.
“There were still good parts to our second-half performance. It wasn't as cohesive in attack, which was disappointing, but our defence was very strong again, we limited them to one line break and our set piece was strong – we came out on top there against a pretty tough, physical side.
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“I don't think the players became complacent or switched off, but I do think we made some poor decisions. As a consequence, they have the ball more, you defend more and it feels like you've slipped off the game a bit. That's the bit we need to get right.”
Effusive in his praise for New Zealand, Lancaster is confident his team can rise to the challenge to round off a successful autumn in style.
"We've done some good work in the last three weeks, made some good progress, learnt some good lessons and now it's about getting the balance right leading into this game,” he said.
“You've got to be prepared to score tries, because you know they're going to score some.
“I'm sure they'll be motivated, and it's a great arena to come and play rugby in. It's a fantastic stadium and the noise, the atmosphere and the intensity that you get will be something that all the players rise to irrespective of what happened last year.”