ENGLAND coach Steve McNamara insists he will not look to emphasise the enormity of the occasion as his side stand on the brink of a rare Test series win over New Zealand today.
They tackle the world’s No 1 team at London’s Olympic Stadium knowing victory will secure an unassailable 2-0 lead against the Four Nations champions.
Given England’s lack of tangible success in recent times, it is an exciting prospect especially considering most of the players have not yet experienced such a notable feat.
It was fully eight years ago when, as Great Britain, the national side last enjoyed a series win, New Zealand being the vanquished opponents then, but before that they had not prospered since also defeating the Kiwis in 1993.
As assistant coach to Great Britain chief Tony Smith in 2007, McNamara does know what it feels like to conquer in such a manner but he insists he does not need to remind his squad of that in any way ahead of today’s encounter which is, again, televised live on the BBC.
“It really is simple for us,” he said, having seen them open the three-Test series with a 26-12 triumph at Hull on Sunday.
“It was simply about preparing for four Test matches, as I said at the start of this autumn.
“It was getting ready for game one v France, then obviously taking on the New Zealanders in the first game and for us then to just solely focus on getting ready to play this now – game two.
“You and I are all aware of what the situation is if we win or if we lose – of course we are – but we can’t concern ourselves with that.
“The concern is to make sure we are ready to play at 2.30pm on Saturday afternoon against a very good team. That is the be all and end all.”
A crowd of around 45,000 is expected for the first ever rugby league match to be played at the Olympic Stadium as England look to get the job done before the final Test in a week’s time at the more traditional venue of Wigan.
McNamara is expected to field an unchanged side to the one that recovered so well from a 10-0 deficit last week and, after training at the home of the London 2012 Olympics yesterday, those players were all presented with their shirts by a surprise guest.
Legendary decathlete Daley Thompson, who won Olympic gold in both 1980 and 1984, breaking the world record four times in his career, spoke to the squad, following on from former deputy prime minister John Prescott who performed the task before the first Test.
“I like to expose the players to different people from different walks of life and we were incredibly fortunate to get Daley,” said McNamara.
“He was an unbelievable athlete, I reckon the best this country has ever produced and his mental strength to overcome those challenges was something I really wanted to pass on to the players.
“We’re at the Olympic Stadium and he was one of our very best-ever Olympians so it’s quite fitting that he’s here today.”
England, of course, lost to the Kiwis in the final 20 seconds of their last meeting with New Zealand in London, an epic 2013 World Cup semi-final. McNamara believes they have matured and improved since then, however, and added: “We’ve worked hard to get ourselves here.
“We’ve had some agonising losses in the last couple of years but we managed to turn it around last week and hopefully we can back it up Saturday.
“There will be nearly 50,000 people here and the fact that 65 per cent of those are from London or the south-east is huge for our game, too.”
There will, though, be no further surprises in the shape of Sam Burgess making a dramatic playing appearance just 48 hours after completing his return to the sport following his release by Bath to rejoin South Sydney Rabbitohs.
“Thankfully Sam is back in rugby league and hopefully for good,” said McNamara, about the inspirational forward who he handed a professional debut to when in charge at Bradford Bulls in 2006 and went on to become one of the sport’s greatest players before switching codes last autumn.
McNamara added: “He was an integral part of our programme up to two years ago and we’ve missed him.
“There will be an opportunity to bring him back into the fold.
“As long as he is playing well enough and is injury-free, he’ll be available for next year’s Four Nations.
“But that’s not for now; we’ve got a great squad and we’re in a good place.”
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