- Head coach outlines August camp objectives
- England will play 12 Test matches before Rugby World Cup 2015
Stuart Lancaster is bristling with anticipation at the prospect of a 12-month period that will culminate with the first Rugby World Cup warm-up fixture against France on August 15.
An extended group of 55 players assembled for a four-day training camp in Loughborough this week, with the objectives to focus minds and assess bodies ahead of the biggest year in England Rugby’s history.
Lancaster’s team will play 12 Test matches – four QBE Internationals, an RBS 6 Nations campaign and three warm-ups – before the showpiece tournament starts in earnest against Fiji on a Friday night at Twickenham, and the head coach outlined the importance of reconnecting as an England set-up as early as possible after the New Zealand tour.
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“It’s mainly about looking forwards, he said. “We’re clearly going to spend a bit of time reviewing the tour but we did a lot of that while we were out there.
“More importantly we need to give the players some key goals and objectives in the lead up to this season.
“When they go back to their clubs they’ll have real clarity over what we’re looking for and how as players they can develop their game to suit the progression we’re making as a team.
“It’s also good opportunity conditioning-wise. Our medical and performance teams can identify where players are strong and areas of weakness that can be improved to make them the world-class athletes we’re going to need to win the World Cup.”
Lancaster puts emphasis on one-on-one meetings with his coaching, conditioning and medical staff to achieve this, with a culture built on honest feedback.
Part of that is discussion of the learnings from three Tests against the world champion All Blacks, the first time England have lost three successive matches under Lancaster’s stewardship.
The tour solidified the coaches’ thinking that clinical, 80-minute performances are the only way to beat the top sides and that producing those winning displays is an ability which can be acquired.
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“The big lesson was taking your opportunities when they’re presented with ruthlessness,” he said. “There was a difference in intensity and speed-of-game, particularly in the middle half of the second Test and the start of the third Test, where you’ve got to be up to the mark for the full 80 minutes.
“Playing for 40, 50, 60 or 70 minutes is not enough to beat these sides. We knew that beforehand but now the players have actually experienced it I think they’ll be better for it.
“New Zealand haven’t done a bad job of [learning to win games]. But you don’t win if you don’t get the basics right. You have to respect the basics, get the scrum, the lineout, the breakdown right and be defensively strong, be set and be organised. And then layer on an X-factor and a point of difference as a team that enables you to cause problems.”
After an RBS 6 Nations campaign notable for consistency in selection – the same backline played each of the five games – Lancaster made nine changes for the first Test, five changes for the second and seven for the third.
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Looking forward to this autumn’s QBE Internationals, when New Zealand, South Africa, Samoa and Australia visit Twickenham on successive Saturdays from November 8, Lancaster’s priority is building confidence and momentum through wins.
While wanting to give game time to established partnerships, Lancaster added that he will pick on early season Aviva Premiership form, highlighting the emergence of Jack Nowell and Jonny May last season.
“It will come down to results when November comes around for sure,” Lancaster concluded. “Building the team is key, looking at and fielding established combinations, but also making sure that we’ve got the strength in depth to build that World Cup squad.
“Consistency is important but also understanding that there are going to be changes along the way and making sure you can interchange players with minimum disruption.
“I don’t think it’s about knowing your best team; it’s about the squad. I’m not going to turn around and say I’ve got [selection] nailed down because what does that say to everyone else. You’ve got to keep the door open as you never know who is going to have a great start to the season or who is going to develop. This time last year two or three players who weren’t even considered ended up playing for us and playing extremely well in the Six Nations.”