Lancaster: Don't stop believing
Stuart Lancaster has urged his England side to believe they can do what no other side has managed this year and beat New Zealand on Saturday.
Stuart Lancaster has urged his England side to believe they can do what no other side has managed this year and beat New Zealand when they face the world champions on Saturday.
England coach Lancaster is convinced having the right mental approach this weekend is essential if the Red Rose brigade are to stand a chance of winning the World Cup on home soil in 2015.
Several of his side do at least know what it's like to beat New Zealand - a feat managed by England on just seven occasions in 35 Tests dating back over a hundred years - having been involved in last year's record 38-21 victory at Twickenham.
That reverse represents New Zealand's lone loss in their past 33 Tests and one they have tried to downplay by recently highlighting how in the week of that match their squad was struck down with a debilitating viral infection.
England may have won nine of their last 10 Tests, the blemish a Six Nations title-deciding loss to Wales, and be ranked third to New Zealand's first in the International Rugby Board standings, but few outside of their camp give much for their chances on Saturday.
But as long as such negative thoughts don't infect his squad, Lancaster is unconcerned.
"New Zealand are a team apart, but if we want to be genuine World Cup contenders we've got to have the belief that we can win these games," he said.
"There is the pressure and expectation of delivering against the best side in the world," Lancaster added.
"To back ourselves to win a World Cup in England we have to have confidence to play sides like New Zealand.
"We are playing them four times over the next six months. That will gives us a good barometer to see where we are.
"When you play the best team in the world you are in for a huge physical, mental and technical examination.
"They have gone to Johannesburg, Sydney and France and won. They are used to it.
"But we have won our last six games at home - we're a young side with a growing confidence within it."
England's starting XV in last Saturday's 31-12 win over Argentina at Twickenham had 287 caps between them whereas the corresponding figure for the All Blacks in their 26-19 victory over France in Paris later Saturday was 853.
"We will still have a pretty young, inexperienced team come Saturday, but we will be hugely motivated by the greatest challenge in rugby," Lancaster said.
"Last year, even though we'd lost two games when we played New Zealand we still had the strong self-belief that we could beat them.
"Retaining your self-belief is the most important thing and sometimes, after losing a couple of games, it starts to waver, but it never did at that point.
"Mentally, we are in the same place we were last year.
"We had that inner confidence last year and we've got the same inner confidence this time.
"But we still recognise that we've got to put in a level of performance that is above and beyond our wins against Australia and Argentina so far this autumn."
New Zealand arrive at Twickenham having won all 12 of their Tests in 2013 and needing to beat both England and Ireland, who they face in Dublin a week on Saturday, to complete a perfect record for the calendar year.