Finding that winning mindset
June 25, 2014
England have the players, it's just a question of belief © Getty Images
It has not been a great week for English sport but if you look at where the national football and rugby team are, they are poles apart. For me, English club football has got to the stage where it is bigger than international. If that ever happens in English rugby, we may as well pack our bags and go home. I'd never watch another game of rugby again.
But thankfully, for the English rugby players, everything is geared towards playing for their country. They now face a career-defining 18 months but what is stopping them from reaching the level of the All Blacks is mindset.
Over the course of three Tests, England put the best team in the world under huge amounts of pressure. That's great to watch but the issue is the drop-off level. When the All Blacks drop-off, it is 5%, for England it is 25%. We've heard the phrases regarding a young team and the continual improvement but there has to be a point where the coaches pick a group, stick with them and move forward. They want a team of players who can give 100% no matter what, no matter where.
The players now have a four or five-week break. For me, after losing a series, it was a case of putting a brave face on. My friends used to take the mick out of me telling me I didn't really work but a defeat goes with you everywhere. I hated losing, it's even worse when you have a time away to think about how games slipped away. But they need to bottle that hurt. English rugby has had a good season but they must take that next step. They must develop a mindset for the next 18 months where everything in their work and personal life is geared towards performance.
When they are on the beach, with their family, at their rugby club or in a restaurant there must be a little niggling thought in the back of their mind about how they are going to get better. There can be no let-up, they must say to themselves 'this is how I am going to be from now on'. They must move into that zone with the World Cup a year away. Some will be there already, but others will still be working out how to get there.
There will be times when they have to suffer a little embarrassment for long-term reward, sometimes they will have to do things they don't really enjoy, it's about sacrifice. If they are not happy with a part of their game, they must speak to the coaches. England are blessed with a fantastic coaching staff and players must pick their brains if they have any doubt. You cannot go into a World Cup expecting to win if there are any little worries about performance in your mind.
That's where the All Blacks are at the moment. There are some players who may not be world class, but they have an inner-belief which gives them an extra 10%. That's how we were in 2003, a lot of the guys had that mindset, England rugby was their world.
England have the players at their disposal who can do that. The tour would have seen Stuart Lancaster learn a huge amount but there are still more questions than answers in some positions and no more so than in the centres. The England coaching staff have to work out their best combination there, develop it and largely stick with it over the next 18 months. At scrum-half they have Ben Youngs and Danny Care and they remind me of the Dawson/Bracken battle we had going on back in 2001.
There are still question marks on the wing but Marland Yarde was outstanding. At fullback, Mike Brown is the only English player at the moment who I can honestly say will be in the starting XV for the first game of the World Cup.
In the pack, they would have been really pleased with how Rob Webber went in the front-row and there are so many quality players to come back in that area. In the locks Geoff Parling was also fantastic and they have a nice headache in the back-row.
I cannot fault Chris Robshaw, he was outstanding and a truly tremendous rugby player but I'm not sure of the mix. I think Billy Vunipola has the potential to be a brilliant No.8 while Matt Kvesic, who played so well against the Crusaders, has a real chance to put the pressure on Robshaw. He went from Worcester to Gloucester last year and was a bit of a damp squib but with new management at Kingsholm he needs to have a big season.
So the potential is there, England have the players and it is positive. The team have the fans behind them, I think the press is behind them but it's now a transitional period from potential into delivery and that's all down to mindset. That is an area where the biggest gains can be made in the shortest possible time.
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