LAWRENCE Dallaglio knows just what it takes to win a World Cup so it is worth taking note when he says the current England team will be a “force to be reckoned with” when the competition is hosted here next year.
Although Stuart Lancaster’s side are in danger of suffering a 3-0 series whitewash when they face current champions New Zealand in Hamilton this morning, the 2003 World Cup victor feels it is actually the tourists who have enhanced their reputation over the last fortnight.
In an exclusive interview with The Yorkshire Post, Dallaglio, who earned legendary status as a marauding No 8 during his 85 Test cap career, said: “There was a lot of concern going into this tour of New Zealand which is obviously very hard and probably the ultimate test in rugby.
“We didn’t have our strongest side in the first week, which was always going to be difficult, but even though we’ve lost both they have both been narrow defeats and not many sides can say that playing the All Blacks over there in recent years.
“I think England can take a lot of positives away from the tour.
“Stuart Lancaster and his coaching team have really found out a lot about not just the players that have played but had an opportunity to work with others too.
“We’ve still got one game to go and could still get a result out of that as well.
“It’s building really nicely towards the World Cup and, make no mistake, New Zealand will have made lots of notes about the improvement in this England side which is very young and far more inexperienced than them.”
When asked where this England team is a year out from the World Cup compared to when they went on to memorably win the competition for the only time in its history in 2003, Dallaglio insisted it was difficult to compare.
“It’s different,” said the 41-year-old, who was in Yorkshire this week as part of his latest fundraising challenge, having cycled 2,500 kilometres through the Italian and Swiss Alps, up through France and, yesterday, replicating the Tour de France route from Leeds to Harrogate.
“We were the best team in the world a year out, the No 1 ranked team. We went to New Zealand and won, went to Australia and won but we were at a very different stage of our evolution.
“I was 31 and a lot of others were coming towards their real peak; all that experience came together at the same time.
“This England team, all I can say, is getting better and better.
“It finished second on points difference in the Six Nations but actually beat the winners and arguably, if not for a little lapse in concentration against France, could easily have won the Championship. In all of the sides in the northern hemisphere they have probably done best against the southern hemisphere in recent outings – they have beaten New Zealand and Australia under Lancaster – and they are, no doubt, moving in the right direction.
“I’m sure they are learning with every game they play and I think we can say with confidence they will be a force to be reckoned with come the Rugby World Cup and a side not many teams would want to play against. That’s not only because they are good but also the host nation as well which gives a bit of an edge.”
The British Lion, joined on his challenge by friends from five years spent studying at North Yorkshire school Ampleforth College, is also fulsome in praise of ex-Leeds Carnegie chief Lancaster whose appointment in 2012 initially raised eyebrows.
“A lot of people just perhaps questioned a little his experience for the job,” said Dallaglio.
“But he’s done fantastically well, firstly in rebuilding England rugby’s brand and culture, and of the values that sit around the side as it’s really important for players to understand what it means to play for their country and the heritage of that shirt.
“But also we’re now starting to see a development in the way England are playing and an improved performance too.
“He’s certainly got a lot of very good players, playing very well and offering real competition; he’s doing a great job and we’re chipping away at the southern hemisphere sides.”
Victory today would be another landmark moment for Lancaster’s side; England have not won in New Zealand since prospering there ahead of that World Cup triumph in 2003 when the “six man scrum” famously defied the odds.
Dallaglio, of course, had been yellow carded at the time.
He recalled: “We didn’t play great and the whole game wasn’t pretty; it was wet, it was windy... it was Wellington.
“The All Blacks weren’t great themselves but we found a way of winning. We tackled and defended courageously. Unfortunately I got sin-binned – quite rightly – for killing the ball as New Zealand were about to score out wide.
“But we managed to win that 10 minute spell 3-0. I felt I owed the team a bit myself when I came back off the bench, as did Neil Back, and we hung on for our first win in 30 years in New Zealand.
”Psychologically it gave us a huge edge to have beaten them both home and away three months before the World Cup.”
For more information on Dallaglio’s numerous fundraising exploits visit http://www.dallagliofoundation.com and follow @dallagliofdn on Twitter.