Rugby World Cup 2015: Stuart Lancaster lays down law over English fitness

England head coach promises to drop those who don't meet their fitness standards

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The Independent Online

Stuart Lancaster has promised to drop players who fall short of England's fitness standards as the head coach laid out the path to World Cup selection over the next three months.

“In order to win it [the World Cup] you have to be the fittest team,” Lancaster said. “Everything falls apart if you’re not supremely fit – your ability to communicate, to make good decisions, your ability to play at high tempo and sustain that.

“The players will have a break at the end of this season, but it would be daft if they had too much of a break because when it comes down to the 50/50 calls it could be something as simple as who’s the fittest.”

Lancaster revealed that he will pick his first-choice team to face France in Paris in the second of England’s three warm-up friendlies on 22 August and another reason fitness will be crucial is that a group of no more than 24 or 25 players may need to play all nine possible matches from then through to the World Cup final at Twickenham at the end of October. England kick off their pool against Fiji on 18 September before facing Wales, Australia and Uruguay. “You’d be a fool not to pick the first-choice team against Fiji,” Lancaster said.

 

Depending on results, even the easy-looking last pool match with the Uruguayans may be a chase for points and tries.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” said Lancaster. “We scored 18 tries in the [recent] Six Nations Championship, which is more than any team has for a long time, but we probably should have scored 24. Without doubt not finishing off opportunities cost us and we want to improve that.”

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England's coaching staff (l-r) Andy Farrell, Mike Catt, Lancaster and Rowntree

The summer schedule starts with fitness testing in Surrey on 22 June, for which Lancaster announced a 50-man training squad last Wednesday, although he name-checked another eight players as potential additions down the line. England will take 45 players to Colorado in July for a punishing two-week camp at altitude, and jettison nine of them when they return, leaving 36 to play friendlies home and away with France (the first is at Twickenham on 15 August) before the last cull to the 31 submitted to World Cup organisers on 31 August. The remaining warm-up game is at home to Ireland on 5 September.

Asked if the squad will be fitter than at any time in his tenure since January 2012, Lancaster replied: “Yes. We’ve got a benchmark of what the national team needs and we want another 10 per cent. It will be grim for the players in Denver, I have been there and it is tough, and then we are going to Vail [the ski resort] which is even higher. Altitude improves aerobic capacity and it is a more effective way of stripping body fat. So they should come back leaner and fitter. If they are not then they will be going home.”

Lancaster said he would be “banging the drum” with England’s conditioning team. They include Tom Tombleson, who has inside knowledge of Australia’s head coach Michael Cheika from their time working together at the New South Wales Waratahs.

On the pitch, Lancaster’s forwards assistant Graham Rowntree is planning a collective effort to get the better of the Aussies in the crucial battle for possession in and after the tackle. With breakdown specialist Steffon Armitage snubbed as a result of English rugby’s version of the non-dom rule, Rowntree said England would rely on a spread of players to force turnover steals, whereas Australia “put all their eggs in one basket” with a flanker like David Pocock.

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England forward coach Graham Rowntree

Looking at his pack, Rowntree said: “We’ve got Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury, Billy Vunipola, Ben Morgan – all of them are very good at that aspect of the game.

“You put that in direct comparison to the Australian team – [Sekope] Kepu, Stephen Moore [in the front row], both their second-rows, [No 8 Ben] McCalman, all those guys are not as good at doing it as the English guys.They have one guy doing it as a particular skill all to themselves. Our threat is right across our pack.”

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