Lewis Moody: Pressure is on Lancaster - he needs all the players to pull together
Moody Views: This England team is focused on the journey - not just the result
Wednesday 28 November 2012
Reality is biting English rugby this autumn, the reality of how harsh and unforgiving an arena international rugby is. This is a tough period for Stuart Lancaster and, with New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday, it is difficult to see anything other than the England coach ending this series with one win out of four.
The attention on Lancaster's position has shifted and all that positive energy from his first campaign in the Six Nations earlier this year seems long gone. That is the way we too often do it in this country – build a team up and then carve it down when it disappoints. Lancaster will be feeling the pressure but I believe he will come through it. For a start this is a grounded guy, not someone who will get above his situation. He knows what is required of him.
What is needed of us is to understand the process. Lancaster's England are focused on the journey not just the result. You learn over a campaign. He will grow and learn with his team and implement the kind of rugby he wants and the culture he wants. The hardest thing he will find is keeping everyone on the same track. He has to make sure all the players buy into the same mantra – and not get away from what has worked for him. He sticks with it and they have to stick with him.
Of course, you can alter bits here and there – the team changes he made for South Africa all worked – but you cannot try to make big changes to the way you play the game week to week. That's when you will come unstuck.
This is going to be a tough period for Lancaster. For a start, there is nothing harder than what England face on Saturday, but he has a good group of coaches around him and there are positives to take from both defeats against Australia and South Africa.
The two games have been tight. It is a young side, an inexperienced one with only 200-odd caps – compare that to the All Blacks – and they have taken the second- and third-best teams in the world to within one score. Look at the games and they could both have been won. There are positives to take, which is not always easy to do when you are a fan because you just want to see your team win.
When you are the losing side it is all doom and gloom but the performance in itself against South Africa and some of the individual displays were right up there. South Africa are the second-best team in the world and England were within a point. If Toby Flood had kicked those two goals, or if they had put the ball in the corner at the end they could have grabbed a win – if they had managed to outwit South Africa's excellent line-out defences. It's small margins.
It is easy to harp on about the decision-making – it was glaringly obvious. But also look at Ben Youngs and Alex Goode, they had particularly impactful games. Ben Morgan came in and carried a lot of ball, did a lot of work – at last somebody has put their hand up in that No 8 slot.
Mike Brown had a good game. He didn't stand out but he was solid and it worked having a full-back on the wing. There is good in there – in fact, more good than bad: the territory, the possession that England had. They couldn't get over the line but South Africa needed a real stroke of luck to get over England's line.
This weekend, though, is something altogether different. At the back of the players' minds all week will be the fact that even by All Black standards this is an outstanding New Zealand side – they were far from their best against Wales but won comfortably – and it will be very difficult to win. It is hard to get that right out of your head but England have to go out and play, and most importantly take every scoring opportunity that comes, whether it is three points or a try. That's what New Zealand do – get those points on the board. They were 23 points up in the first half against Wales and were still taking their three points. In all, Aaron Cruden kicked four penalties. That's how you create a winning margin, it is what great teams do. They have that confidence and desire – on goes the pressure, up go the points. They don't pander to the fans or anything like that, there is no external influence.
This is a big learning curve for England but there is an opportunity if the mindset is right (as well as everything else). France had a chance in the World Cup final. Of course, it is more likely to be New Zealand's day but I want to see another solid performance – people got carried away with the success of the Six Nations. Players sometimes have to learn the hard way. Can they turn the frustration and lessons of the autumn into success in the Six Nations in the spring? That is the test now.
McCaw still the master for All Blacks
A winning mentality surrounds this All Black team and that is not surprising, given the man who will lead them out at Twickenham. Enjoy watching him while you can because Richie McCaw is one of the best rugby players of all time.
His consistency over such a long period of time in a position that demands so much and leads to so much wear and tear on the body is remarkable. At openside you are always in the firing line.
He's the toughest opponent. As a back-rower you want to test yourself against the best. The first time I faced him he gave me an absolute lesson in the art of openside play. My target every game after that was to try to outperform him. We had some pretty good battles – and I hope there were some occasions when I did get the better of him (although they were rare!). He was so strong, skilful and competitive. To still be doing it 11 years on is amazing.
Will he still have the drive and desire to make it through to the World Cup after his sabbatical? The competitive desire still burns bright, but there comes a moment when you realise your time is nearing its end, whether it's form or the toll on your body. He will be nearly 35 at the World Cup and Simon Shaw was 38 at the last one. It can be done and if anyone can do it, Ritchie can.
Scots team shares blame
I suspect Andy Robinson will be pulling his hair out as he heads home from Scotland. He leaves Scottish rugby in a better place, with a solid professional culture, than when he arrived but the results on the field must have been immensely frustrating.
They had the best summer tour of any of the northern hemisphere sides – beating Australia in Australia should have been a landmark result. But there is also last season's Six Nations and then last Saturday against Tonga. The players have to look at themselves and admit they did Robbo no favours.
Lewis Moody, who will be trekking 300m in 8 days across the Yukon Arctic Ultra to raise money for HOPEHIV (go to www.mygreatestchallenge.org), is a TAG Heuer ambassador. TAG are the Official Watch of England Rugby
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