England v New Zealand: Stuart Lancaster puts shirt on England gaining major lift from national pride
England take on the All Blacks at Twickenham on Saturday
Stuart Lancaster rejects the idea that England are merely emulating the All Blacks by playing the patriot card ahead of Saturday's highly charged contest at Twickenham: imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, no red-rose coach wants to stand accused of sucking up to the world champions. But history and heritage are definitely the buzzwords of the moment and Lancaster is determined to break New Zealand's monopoly on this form of motivation.
"We're going through the process of recapturing our own sense of heritage – of discovering what the England shirt means," he said. "When the All Blacks were in transition in the middle years of the last decade, they really understood how powerful a source of motivation the history of the shirt could be.
"Identity is a complex subject for us," he added. "We're an island nation, made up of different rugby nations. But we've been talking about what links the shirt to the history of the England team, and the next step is to make a full connection with the country at large."
The All Blacks have had the benefit of that connection for well over a century now. As Graham Henry, their World Cup-winning coach, famously said of Dave Gallaher's ground-breaking 1905 tourists: "They left home as colonials and returned as New Zealanders."
For England, the task of grabbing and holding the attention of the average sports nut in the street is more difficult: rugby union is not, after all, the only game in town.
But a second successive victory over opponents as dominant as these All Blacks, who have lost just once in 33 matches since mid-2011, would make the challenge a whole lot easier to meet.
"We know this is a big game," Lancaster said. "We can sense it in the mindset of the players. Building a team capable of winning the World Cup here in 2015 has a lot to do with momentum and we're just about at the mid-point of the cycle, so this is a fantastic opportunity for us.
"New Zealand won't be short of motivation: they lost to us here last year; they have a player [the celebrated outside-half Daniel Carter] winning his 100th cap; they are close to going through this calendar year unbeaten. But these motivational factors balance themselves out. We've won nine of our last 10 games, so we're on a good run of our own."
It has not been an easy week for Lancaster, what with injury hassles on the wing – both Marland Yarde and Christian Wade were unavailable for selection – and in the front row, where the two Lions loose-head props, Alex Corbisiero and Mako Vunipola, dropped out of contention with knee problems. Indeed the former will undergo surgery on the cartilage in his left knee, his club Northampton have announced.
These withdrawals, frustrating as they may have been for the coach, clarified his thinking. As expected, there is only one change to the team that started last week's victory over Argentina: the return of the Leicester tight-head Dan Cole at the scrum's sharp end.
The decision to retain Dylan Hartley of Northampton as his starting hooker, over and above the Lions Test player Tom Youngs, is significant. Hartley now has a clear edge on his rival and if he maintains form and keeps his nose clean on the disciplinary front, the New Zealand-born import is likely to construct a strong case for himself as England's preferred choice at the global gathering in a little under two years' time.
Asked what Hartley brought to the table, Lancaster was generous in his praise. "He offers leadership," he said. "He also adds his character, his personality. The technical side of his game has improved, he's a big physical presence on the field, his lineout throwing is exceptional – no small thing – and he's learnt how to play on the edge.
"You need competitive players to be a competitive team. People like Dylan and Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes, they're important to us."
In the absence of Corbisiero and Vunipola, the Wasps prop Matt Mullan provides front-row cover on the bench, some four years after winning his one and only England cap.
There is also a change in back-up at scrum-half, Ben Youngs of Leicester taking over from Danny Care of Harlequins among the replacements.
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