England prop Joe Marler has said that should the Rugby World Cup start tomorrow, the team would back themselves to win it. Despite the tournament being over two years away, and with talk of a home victory clearly premature, comparisons are being made between the current side and the all-conquering team of 2003.
Stuart Lancaster’s side have hit a good run of form, with two wins out of two in their RBS Six Nations campaign off the back of their first win against New Zealand in nearly a decade. With the win against Ireland also their first in 10 years in the capital city, there is a sudden buzz among English rugby fans, and it’s clearly reverberating around the squad too.
“If it was to start tomorrow, we’d back ourselves to win it,” said the Harlequins forward. “It’s a little bit of an English thing in most sports, getting ahead of ourselves somewhat. But we’re on a journey. We’re on a journey as a team and each time we pull on that shirt it’s another step towards that ultimate goal of a home World Cup in front of your own fans.
“That’s our main goal. But we’ll be focusing on the process in between then and now because it’s still two and a half years away, so we’ve got lots to do before then.”
In-form fly-half Owen Farrell was similarly cautious in predicting success, but he is also well aware of the side’s long-term ambitions under Lancaster.
The Saracens half-back said: “The World Cup is a long way away. There’s obviously loads of rugby to be played before then but that’s when everyone wants to peak and that’s what we want to build towards. As long as we keep going in the right direction, we’ll be in good stead.”
The news comes in a week dominated by British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland’s somewhat controversial comments over the selection of English players for the tour to Australia. In what has been well publicised, Gatland said in an interview that he had concerns about the media attention that would be created should a number of England players be selected following the “circus” that surround the 2011 Rugby World Cup campaign.
However, Gatland clarified his comments that he would pick the side on “merit and merit alone”, and the Kiwi met with Lancaster to lay to rest any fears that the England team had. When asked about Gatland’s comments, Marler said they amused rather than annoyed the team.
“We had a bit of a giggle,” the front-row admitted. “I think he came out and said he was mis-quoted or something but for the boys, it’s irrelevant. We’re concentrating on the next game. As individuals throughout the squad, I’m sure a lot of the boys have got it at the back of their minds that they want to go on that tour but it’s about the team first, here and now.
“You’re not going to get on that tour unless you perform in these games and these games are what counts and we’re just concentrating on those.”
Farrell agreed with his teammate, suggesting: “It’s got no bearing on what’s happening in our camp, we’ve just got to focus on our next game and play well. Anything that comes on the back of that will be a bonus for anyone.”
Commenting on Gatland’s visit to the England camp, the outside-half seem unconcerned on the matter in the build-up to the game against France at Twickenham next weekend. He said: “It was alright. He just kept himself to himself really, just watched training and sat in on a couple of meetings. You didn’t really know he was there.”