Former England No 8 and captain Lawrence Dallaglio offers his thoughts on the current state of the England team.
“I think the 2011 World Cup is a bit too early for this generation of England players and New Zealand will be strong favourites to win the tournament. England have made huge strides in the past 12 months, but to win a World Cup you need to win three big games on the trot and that usually involves beating two of the three Tri-Nations teams.
“We probably haven’t got the ability to do that at the moment. Having said that, England shouldn’t be written off. We’ve got a good record in the World Cup, reaching three finals. This England squad still needs to go through a bit more pain before they feel the pleasure.
“The Ireland game was a reality check but not a devastating setback the way some have portrayed it. This England side is at the start of its journey and it can’t be compared to the World Cup-winning side of 2003. We were very experienced then but that experience had involved a lot of painful defeats along the way; crucially, however, we learned from every defeat.
“Take the loss to Wales at Wembley in 1999 when Scott Gibbs scored a try near the end to give the Welsh the lead. There were still two-and-a-half minutes to play, plenty of time for us to regain the lead, but we panicked.
“Contrast that with the World Cup final four years later: Elton Flatley levelled matters with three minutes of extra-time to go, but we stayed calm and worked our way close enough to Australia’s posts for Jonny to drop his goal. That was all down to the experience of previous games.
“Talking of Wilkinson, there’s been talk in the wake of the Ireland defeat that he should replace Toby Flood at fly-half. I feel Flood’s come in for a lot of unfair criticism after one bad game. Everyone had a poor match against the Irish and if you’re looking for reasons why England lost then look first at the forwards, who were well beaten. That has to be addressed, as must the mental approach. Ireland had that part of their game spot on and were far more positive from the start.
“But it’s good to have Wilkinson and Flood vying for the No 10 jersey, as it is to have healthy competition at scrum-half and in the back row. I’m concerned about the centres and I’m sure this is one area Martin Johnson will be examining in detail.
“I’d love to see Riki Flutey back in the form he showed in 2009. It might also be worth looking at Manu Tuilagi, the young Tiger. Johnson knows what goes on at Leicester and I’m sure he’s speaking to the coaches and when he feels the time is right he’ll give him a chance.
“Similarly, there’s been speculation that Leicester No 8 Thomas Waldrom might make England’s World Cup squad after discovering a long-lost English granny. Do I mind the fact that he’s a Kiwi? Rules are rules and they’re not set by people like me.
“I do find it strange, however, that whenever England pick a player born overseas it creates a debate, but there’s hardly a mention when the All Blacks or Wallabies cap someone born in the Pacific Isles. And our Celtic cousins aren’t exactly adverse to picking the odd antipodean!
“So if Waldrom fits the rules and he’s good enough, then pick him.
This article appeared in the June 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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