England must build an aura of invincibility, insists Greenwood

IF England win again today for the umpteenth time this year, there will be yet more records broken under the tenure of Eddie Jones but Will Greenwood believes the only important aspect is raising the bar further still for the 2019 World Cup.

England's Billy Vunipola attempts to offload while being tackled by Australia's James Slipper during their rugby union test match in Sydney, Saturday, June 25, 2016.
England's Billy Vunipola attempts to offload while being tackled by Australia's James Slipper during their rugby union test match in Sydney, Saturday, June 25, 2016.

It may seem too far in the future to truly begin contemplating but the former Red Rose centre, who won 55 caps including a famous appearance in the 2003 World Cup final win over Australia, believes the very fact they can is a sign of how far the national side has evolved.

If, as expected, they prosper against the Wallabies at Twickenham today it will be the first time an England team has ever completed a calendar year with a 100 per cent win record.

Furthermore, it will also equal their best ever sequence of 14 straight victories set in 2002-2003, a run which, of course, culminated with their finest hour in Sydney.

The last dozen of this sequence have come under Jones’s command as the wisecracking Australian continues to enjoy real alchemy since taking over from Stuart Lancaster after last year’s doomed World Cup failure.

Their best previously in a calendar year was 16 – still a world record – from 17 outings also in 2003, their only loss being a 17-16 defeat to France in Marseille that ended their record-breaking 14-match winning streak as well.

“A lot of the lads back in ‘03 did actually go a full calendar year without losing because Clive (Woodward) put out a quite different team for that World Cup warm-up game,” insisted Greenwood in an exclusive interview with The Yorkshire Post, himself, Jonny Wilkinson, Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio just some of the luminaries missing that night.

“It is a great opportunity this weekend but that sort of thing (records) you don’t think about until you’re 50-odd, long retired and someone reminds you of it.

“All England will be thinking about on Saturday is getting a fourth straight win against Australia and making sure they reduce all the confidence and self-belief of other teams so that at that World Cup in three years time they are going in on the back of all that.

“They’ll be wanting to put down a marker and undermine the reputation of the southern hemisphere sides.

“That’s what being the best is all about – they’ll be wanting to go into that tournament with people believing they are the only team that can win it – so they’ll be looking to execute again.”

It remains too early to say whether England can go on and lift the Webb Ellis Trophy for only a second time when it heads to Japan – the first time the tournament has been held in Asia – in three years’ time but Greenwood certainly likes what he sees.

“It’s like Conor McGregor wanting to take on Floyd Mayweather,” he said, referencing the UFC champion who hopes to fight the renowned, undefeated five-weight world boxing champion.

“Whether he can or can’t he has to try and build up that aura of believing you’re the best.

“The only way they can get number one ranking , I think, is to probably beat New Zealand twice between now and then.

“Whether or not they do that, what is important that they arrive in 2019 in dominant style and that is what this England team is building towards now, something they’ll look to show against the Aussies on Saturday.”

What is undeniable is the strength in depth of the squad currently at Jones’s disposal.

Greenwood, who will commentate on the game for Sky Sports today, admitted: “That’s the key.

“There’s still a couple of certain major players – the Jonny Wilkinson, Martin Johnson sorts (from ‘03) – that they definitely won’t want to lose and we’ll see how they cope without one of them as Billy Vunipola is missing this weekend.

“But overall it is a very deep squad and they won’t skip a beat when it comes to self-belief; whoever comes in they know he’ll slot straight in.”

Greenwood can see similarities with the class of ‘03 and has viewed them at close quarters as well.

“What Eddie Jones has done is fantastic but (assistants Steve) Borthwick and (Paul) Gustard are great and the players are fantastic at setting their own standards, too,” said the 42-year-old former British Lion.

“I’ve watched them train. I actually trained with them on Tuesday.

“A few people saw me so it’s no secret – but it’s a great environment to be in, a great place,” he added.

Wasps’ Fijian-born No8 Nathan Hughes makes his first start for England in place of the aforementioned Vunipola who has been a revelation under Jones’s command, taking his game to new levels.

The only other change to the side that beat Argentina last week sees Harlequins winger Marland Yarde replace the banned Elliot Daly.