We chat to Lawrence Dallaglio about England and the Rugby World Cup.
How do you feel the England squad are shaping up?
“The time is now. They’ve put a huge amount of work in over the last 18 months and the selection has been made. They’re going into the tournament as hosts, as the home team, and as one of a number of genuine contenders to win the trophy.
It’s probably the most wide-open rugby world cup we’re likely to see for some time. I genuinely believe that. The formbook would point to New Zealand comfortably, and the results and the way that they’ve played means they have consistently been on top. But we’ve said that a few times and they’ve come unstuck. South Africa are up there, without a doubt. It’s an interesting world cup because no team has successfully defended the trophy, and therefore there’s a desire by New Zealand to be the first team to ever do that.
From the northern hemisphere, England clearly have huge chances of doing well because of home advantage. Ireland have genuine chances too, they’ll be thinking that if they can beat France and get the right side of the pool then they can go all the way. Wales are probably set back a little bit with recent injuries, but again a very dangerous side in pool A and they were semi-finalists in 2011 so can’t be discounted. And I don’t think Scotland would realistically be saying that they’re going to win the competition but could certainly cause one or two upsets.”
What advantage does the home crowd really give the team?
“It is a factor. I think that to have the crowd and the momentum with you gives you a lift. It’s the 16th man, if you like, and the players will become inspired by that. They’ll want to go out and perform for their fans in an environment where they’re comfortable. It makes Twickenham a much more intimidating place for opposing teams. It also puts pressure on the referee a little bit. So that’s what home advantage does.
What the England team mustn’t allow that to do is become stifling, and restrictive, and cause them to cramp up a little bit. They need to try and relax, try and play the best that they possibly can. England doesn’t have huge amounts of experience in terms of world cups. For many of these players this will be their first ever world cup so that is not ideal. But given that they have home advantage, it squares things up a little bit.”
Do you think England can genuinely win?
“Genuinely, if they win the pool then I believe they can. If they’re runners up then the route becomes a very difficult one. To beat South Africa and New Zealand back-to-back and then go to a final would be tough. And no team has ever lost a game and gone on to with the world cup, so to win the pool they have to focus on beating Fiji, Wales, Uruguay and Australia first.
It’s unfortunate the way it’s worked out, you wouldn’t have a football world cup with Brazil, Italy and Germany in the same pool, but that’s just the way it’s turned out and England will have to deal with that. If they can win the pool, then without a shadow of a doubt they can get to the final where they’re likely to play one of the big teams, and it’ll be a one-off game with home support. It’s hard to beat the home team at their own stadium, and I can tell you that because I played Australia in 2003 – we’d beat them six times previously, and yet we went to the last minute of extra time to get over the line. New Zealand were by far the best team in 2011, and look how hard it was for them to finally get over the line. So all I can say is that is if England do get there by winning the pool, then of course they can win it.”
What do you think about the first game against Fiji?
“I think it’s a really good game to kick off the world cup. It’s a chance for England to run out and make a statement to the other teams watching, to lay down the marker for the whole tournament itself. I played New Zealand here at Twickenham in 1999 as my first world cup game and it wasn’t easy. It’s not an easy game but it’s a loosener. They’re expected to win, they’re expected to win well and that’s a challenge they’ll relish. It’s an ideal preparation, Fiji are not a walk over, they’re a tough side, they’re going to be hard to break down, but you’d expect England to do that and set up comfortable winners for what is the biggest game of their world cup, which is Wales.”
How do you think Chris Robshaw will perform as captain?
“I’ve been very vocal in my support of him as a player. I think he’s done a fantastic job, I think that he’s been playing consistently very well and he needs more support from the rest of his team, especially the rest of his pack. It’s a big responsibility captaining a country, and it will certainly be harder on home soil for a world cup, but he looks focussed and ready.
Any last words to all the fans?
“Get behind your team and believe because the connection between the players and the fans is really important, especially in a game like rugby, it can be the difference between winning a loosing. We need to make Twickenham a fortress, and we need our fans to do that.”