One swallow makes a summer
February 02, 2013, 10:50:56
One seismic win over New Zealand has flipped England from a work in progress to a major force in world rugby, ramping up expectation levels and making Stuart Lancaster's side the team to beat in the Six Nations.
"The trick now is to build on that All Black performance and get the consistency we need to win at the highest level," Lancaster said. "And there's no better place to prove yourself than the Six Nations."
And can England handle the increased pressure after its demolition of the All Blacks?
"England, with their performance against New Zealand and three home games, they are the favourites," France coach Philippe Saint-Andre said.
The appointment of the unheralded Lancaster as coach after England's troubled World Cup campaign in New Zealand has been a masterstroke by the oft-troubled Rugby Football Union.
Players now play for the jersey, misbehaviour among the squad has been stamped out and a string of talented youngsters such as Joe Launchbury, Owen Farrell and Alex Goode have been given their head.
The result? A second-place finish in the 2012 Six Nations, competitive performances in a series loss in South Africa in June and then that famous win at Twickenham, where New Zealand was blown away.
Like last year, renowned figures from the sporting world have been summoned to speak to England's squad before the start of the tournament, explaining what it means to represent your country.
This time round, it was the turn of former England cricket captain Andrew Strauss and Tony Minichello, the coach of Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis.
"Speaking to people at grassroots rugby, people are optimistic with what we are doing, trying to take a young group of players through to the World Cup," Lancaster said. "We are still on that path . we've talked about hitting the ground running in the Six Nations."