- RWC winner says home crowd can lift Lancaster's England
- “Sometimes at home you feel like you have 16th and 17th players out there with you” – Wilkinson
Jonny Wilkinson is impressed with how England’s squad is developing ahead of Rugby World Cup 2015 and believes home support could play a vital role in Stuart Lancaster’s bid for the Webb Ellis trophy.
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The Toulon fly half – who won 91 caps for his country and famously played a key role in winning the tournament a decade ago – was eager to outline the progress England have made in the past two seasons.
As evidenced by an assured, exciting pair of victories for a young side in Argentina this summer, the upcoming RWC hosts can now rely on an impressive degree of depth beyond proven performers such as Chris Robshaw, Toby Flood and Chris Ashton.
“I think England as a team are shaping up very nicely,” said Wilkinson, who retired from Tests in December 2011, shortly after an agnoising 19-12 World Cup quarter-final loss to France.
“A great foundation has been put in place and that is key. You can’t cut corners or cheat in terms of rugby preparation. If you paper over cracks, you will eventually have to go back and fill them in at some point, which is quite a painful experience.
“With two years to go, the new guys are mixing alongside the more experienced ones. It’s a young team who will benefit a lot from playing together as they have done over the past two years. England’s prospects are very good.”
In terms of competitors, Wilkinson understandably acknowledged the threat that Steve Hansen’s New Zealand will pose as holders – but there were also a pair of left-field suggestions, with Pacific Island powerhouses Samoa and Tonga getting a mention.
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Despite the presence of these credible contenders though, the 34 year-old finished by reiterating the difference that English supporters could make, especially in light of the excruciatingly tough pool that awaits their side – including fixtures against Australia and Wales.
“There’s no end of challenges but being supported by your home crowd can bring a power that is difficult to fathom until you actually get there,” Wilkinson added, remembering his first World Cup in 1999, which featured four matches at Twickenham before another exit at the last eight stage to South Africa.
“It’s hard to understand but sometimes at home you feel like you have 16th and 17th players out there with you. You don’t know when or how they are going to come into it, but the support is huge.
“The English public are going to really behind their teams and it’s exciting to wonder just how far they can go. As with any World Cup, if you get out of the group stages and give yourself a chance in the quarter final, anything is possible.”