- Rowntree looks forward to New Zealand tour
- England Forwards Coach calls on individuals to step up
Graham Rowntree cannot quite shrug the frustration of missing out on a RBS 6 Nations title, but says June’s three-Test tour of New Zealand will provide an “acid test” for his team ahead of Rugby World Cup 2015.
Despite beating Ireland at Twickenham, England missed out on Championship glory to Joe Schmidt’s charges – a 52-11 victory over Italy on the final day not quite enough to overturn by an inferior points difference.
Ultimately, defeat in Paris at the start of February meant Chris Robshaw’s team had to settle for a Triple Crown. And while Rowntree was still riled at that result, he also stressed that some fine performances from his forwards over the tournament had made a bitter pill slightly easier to swallow.
Photo: Getty Images
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t win it really,” said the England Forwards Coach. “That isn’t just the Six Nations, but the Grand Slam as well. We could have won all the games but in many of them we left some points out on the field.
“Just looking at the overall development though, I’m pleased with where we are in terms of key personnel and key combinations within the forward pack. We’re able to carry the ball and move teams around and attack them in that way as well as in the set-piece.
“We’ve been pleased with our breakdown as well and as I said before, the key units such as the lineout are working well. Courtney [Lawes]has taken on that responsibility, ably assisted by Dave Attwood and Ed Slater in training.
“It’s great, because the likes of Alex Corbisiero, Tom Croft and Geoff Parling are out – so the way the guys have developed has been pleasing.”
A trip to face the reigning world champions – unbeaten in 14 Tests since a 38-21 loss at Twickenham on December 1, 2012 – certainly represents something of a yardstick for England’s impressive youngsters.
Photo: Getty Images
For example, in-form lock partnership Lawes and Joe Launchbury are expected to face All Blacks Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, widely regarded as the most rounded, proficient second-row pairing on the planet.
Rather than downplay the challenge of back-to-back Tests in Auckland (June 7), Dunedin (June 14) and Hamilton (June 21), Rowntree stressed that such a high-stakes environment would provide an irrefutable benchmark of collective and individual progress.
“They’ve all got to go to the next level,” he said. “We’ve shown how good we can be, but, as I keep saying to the lads, it’s about consistency.
“That is consistency under the pressure of big games – delivering quality ball at scrum, lineout and breakdown and doing that under pressure in the big arenas. There’s no better place than New Zealand to test that out.
“It’s an acid test of where we are. As a coaching group, we’ve spoken about this tour for a long time. It’s just over a year out from the World Cup – albeit with a couple of players still to come in – and we want to test ourselves against the best. We want to go out there and win, get used to winning and coping with the pressures that brings.
“Back-to-back games are always tough. The autumn games are good for that. It’s about backing up from a hard game on the Saturday. The way Test matches are now, we can’t do much with them until Tuesday at the earliest.
“It’s about adjusting with the pressure of those games mentally as well. That’s part of them growing up.”
While they will be underdogs, England do travel to the Land of the Long White cloud with something of a blueprint for beating New Zealand.
Photo: Getty Images
In 2012, Kieran Read and co. were unsettled by ferocity in every collision and rapid ruck-speed on the way to a record defeat to England. And encouragingly, despite the yield of two tries in a slow start that was eventually too much to come back from, England worried the All Blacks in last November’s QBE International either side of half-time – scoring 19 unanswered points.
Indeed, finishing with a glance at the specifics needed to stay competitive against New Zealand, Rowntree suggested that the likes of Richie McCaw, Liam Messam and Steven Luatua would have to be nullified at the breakdown.
“The components are the same as any big game – you’ve got to have immaculate basics,” he added. “More than ever, it’s the breakdown that will dictate the game.
“That’s one area of the game that has received special attention from us. It’s got to be especially good against New Zealand, who are exceptional in that area.”