Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

England Are 'A Long Way Off' Jonno's Cup Heroes; Neil Back Says Coach Lancaster Is Playing Catch-Up in Bid to Repeat Feat. by Chris Jones

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

England Are 'A Long Way Off' Jonno's Cup Heroes; Neil Back Says Coach Lancaster Is Playing Catch-Up in Bid to Repeat Feat. by Chris Jones

Article excerpt

Byline: Chris Jones

STUART LANCASTER faces a race against time to identify the players who can make England contenders at next year's World Cup, according to one of the 2003 winners.

A year before the 2015 tournament kicks off on home soil, Neil Back is urging Lancaster to choose his starting XV and allow those players time to discover the self-belief and understanding that underpinned the England triumph in Australia 11 years ago.

Back said: "This current group of England players are ahead of where we were going into the 1999 World Cup (England lost in the quarter-finals to South Africa) but a long way away from where we were heading into the 2003 Cup in Australia. I am talking in terms of consistency of performance and selection plus our world ranking, which is currently No4.

"Stuart Lancaster and his coaches must use these early Premiership games to identify the form players and then nail their colours to the mast. The delay in naming the England squad until October is great because it increases competition and players will be picked on form.

"If you asked a panel of rugby experts to pick their best England XV they would probably come up with 23 names. You have to ask, what is our best front row, second row, back row, half-backs, centres and back three? In 2003, you would have probably got 16 names if you asked the same question.

"We had good players in 2003 and strength in depth but we also had experience of playing together, which means communication changes from being verbal to visual because you understand the body language of the guys you are playing with.

"When Martin Johnson was captain I ran out on to the pitch behind him and as he turned to shout at us, I would always put my right hand up to shield my face from the spit that came with his final words.

"In the 2003 World Cup Final, I was second man out and had my hand up but nothing came out of Jonno's mouth. No words -- nothing.

"Two weeks later back at Leicester, I asked him why he hadn't said anything -- no battle cry or anything. …

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