England have been handed a tough road to a third World Cup final in four tournaments but for their captain Chris Robshaw, it is a challenge the hosts are ready for. Duncan Bech reports.
Chris Robshaw is convinced England have assembled a squad capable of emulating their famed forebears of 2003 by lifting the Webb Ellis trophy.
The World Cup hosts enter the most challenging pool in the tournament’s history with less experience than they would have hoped for, particularly in a backline that is full of promise but short on proven international winners.
A fearsome pack, however, gives England hope of progressing from a group that includes Australia, Wales and Fiji with a first-place finish offering a kinder route to the final.
Among the Red Rose stars are big-hitting lock Courtney Lawes, gifted playmaker George Ford and powerful rugby league convert Sam Burgess.
Robshaw is flooded with belief when he surveys his team-mates.
“I believe this is a squad that can win the World Cup. There are enough guys who have played in big games in various competitions who have dealt with pressure,” the England captain said.
“There is also a lot of youth in there which brings excitement. The balance is very good. I look around and I’m confident in the players we have.
“I’m very pleased looking at that squad with the guys you’re going to go into battle with, over what will hopefully be a long period of time.”
As the figurehead of England’s challenge for New Zealand’s crown as world champions, Robshaw will be under scrutiny more than most.
The 29-year-old openside has been an ever-present under Stuart Lancaster, leading the Red Rose in all but four of the Tests since the Cumbrian was appointed head coach in 2012, and has survived a few shaky moments to develop into an assured captain.
Knowing what lies ahead during the biggest six weeks of his career, Robshaw has been consulting others who occupy the spotlight in the hope of gleaning an insight into the temperament needed to prosper.
“I try and speak to as many people as possible in the rugby forum and also outside of rugby, so sport in general, business, fashion, music,” continued Robshaw, whose ability in the No 7 shirt still polarises opinion.
“It is useful to speak to anyone who undergoes that pressure situation, taking bits of information from them.
“We have spoken to people like (former England cricket coach) Andy Flower and (England football coach) Roy Hodgson, who have been in big tournaments.
“I sat next to Jimmy Anderson at Wimbledon this year just before the Ashes and Stuart Broad was at one of our games recently.
“You pick up little things from guys like that who go into similar types of situations.
“It’s about having that dedication and commitment to each other when you know there are going to be tough times ahead.
“You need to make sure that you are there for each other.
“Being England captain is an extremely honoured position and you are always looking for ways to improve, as well and seeing how you can get the best out of your team-mates.”
Robshaw, who was a high-profile omission from the 2011 squad, has also learned a lesson from Martin Johnson’s class of 2003 on the importance of winning ugly.
“It’s about learning how to win,” said Robshaw.
“I think everyone asks how do you want to play and how do you want to perform, but it’s about winning at the end of the day.
“I have spoken to a number of the guys who won the World Cup for England and they said that they had times where they flew past people and times when they just about clawed their way through a game.
“They could easily have lost those games.
“However, no-one really remembers those games unless you are a rugby fanatic.
“It is about finding ways to win and doing what needs to be done in every situation.”
One of those situations could be a tried and tested route for England in World Cups – through the metronomic boot of their fly-half.
Twelve years after the most famous England fly-half of all time drop-kicked his country to World Cup glory, George Ford now finds himself with the keys to No 10 that were once held by Jonny Wilkinson.
At 22, there is enormous responsibility on his shoulders to not only guide England through a very tough pool, but he must also attempt it on home soil. Ford has coped impressively with every challenge in his career so far, but this is another level completely.
It is another level for this entire England squad, on which so much is expected.