Sacrifices are worth paying to win the World Cup

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Stuart Lancaster is a sucker for a good story.

He relishes the chance to invite a guest speaker into one of his England training camps to hold court about their experiences, triumphs and disasters.

Jason Robinson.

Jason Robinson.

Jamie Peacock, Gary Neville, Dave Brailsford and even leaders from the armed forces have all been asked to impart to his young charges a sense of national duty and pride.

If he has not done so already, Lancaster would be wise to seek the motivational words of another Leeds favourite, Jason Robinson. For he has what Lancaster and England are striving for – a World Cup winner’s medal.

Not only that, he has the 
experience of playing in two more World Cup finals, and the memory of the hurt he felt when those opportunities slipped through his fingers.

There are not many British sportsmen who have played in three World Cup finals. There are even fewer who have made a match-winning contribution, as Robinson did with England’s only try of the 2003 final against Australia in Sydney.

“There aren’t many days that go past without my mind going back,” smiles Robinson, who had his hands on the Webb Ellis Trophy again yesterday at Leeds Beckett University, as the interviews for volunteers for next year’s tournament continued.

“Just seeing the trophy now... I’ve experienced lots of different feelings in World Cups; three finals, two lost and one won.

“I know how disappointing it is when you get so close but fail to win it.

“But I have also felt the sheer joy of being able to pick that trophy up with a group of guys that have worked so hard for each other and for a nation to share in that triumph.

“Hopefully Chris Robshaw and the guys can do it next year and do us all proud.”

If Lancaster was to call on Robinson, then the former flyer would be able to tell the head coach and the likes of Robshaw, Danny Care and Owen Farrell – men who sit where he, Jonny Wilkinson and Martin Johnson would have sat a dozen years ago – just what was the key to that groundbreaking success.

“There’s a lot of sacrifices to be made by the team and by the management before then, but I can tell you from experience it’s certainly worthwhile,” recalls the 40-year-old.

“All those training sessions, all those sacrifices, putting everything else on hold, is certainly worth it when you stand exhausted after that 100 minutes and know that you’ve become a World Cup winner.

“It doesn’t get any better than that.”

If England are to emulate the men of Robinson’s era and write themselves into English sporting history, then the role of Sam Burgess could be crucial.

Burgess is in the process of moving across to union with Bath, after a heroic swansong in league with South Sydney in the NRL grand final last week.

Like Lancaster, if Burgess needs any advice on fulfilling his own and external expectations, he need look no further than Robinson, who switched to union in 1999 having played in the rugby league World Cup final of 1995.

“It’s a challenge he will have set himself to get into that team before the World Cup,” says Robinson. “I did a similar thing many, many years ago. I got into an England shirt in three months and a Lions shirt within seven, so it can be done.

“It’s a lot to ask, but I’m sure in his own mind he’ll be doing everything possible to make it.

“He’s at a good place at Bath because there are ex-rugby league players there who are going to help him with the transition.

“He’ll put pressure on some of the other players as well; they’ll have to be on top form and that’s what you want coming into a World Cup, competition for places. If England are going to win it, it will need every player on top form and playing great rugby.”

As one of only 23 Englishmen to have lifted the Webb Ellis trophy, Robinson will be in demand over the coming year as the countdown to this country’s second World Cup ticks on.

He is already working with the organisers on ‘The Pack’, which is a drive to attract 6,000 volunteers to work at next year’s event.

And as with 2003, he sees a unique opportunity to grow the sport in his city and country.

“We saw after the 2003 World Cup how many people got into rugby at amateur and supporter level, it just went through the roof,” says Robinson.

“The 2015 tournament will be bigger than ever before and a great showcase for the sport.”