Rowntree says England blessed not stressed

LONDON, UK (OCTOBER 2, 2015)(REUTERS) – Graham Rowntree had a long, but painful association with the Rugby World Cup as a player and on Friday (October 2) reminded the current England side to embrace the occasion when they face Australia in Saturday’s monumental Twickenham clash.

The England forwards coach and former prop made his first England start in the 1995 tournament and also featured in the 1999 campaign. However, he then suffered the biggest setback of his 11-year, 57-cap career when he was a surprise omission from the squad that won the 2003 world cup.

Back on board as an assistant coach, he was involved in the 2007 and 2011 campaigns, but will probably go to his grave ruing what Clive Woodward has since described as the hardest decision of his coaching career, leaving Rowntree to watch from afar as his long-term team mates etched their names in rugby history.

It should come as little surprise, therefore, that Rowntree had no time for suggestions that the current squad might not deal with the pressure of a match they have to win; even then they might suffer the ignominy of becoming the first England team not to make the quarter-finals.

“You got to keep pinching yourselves how lucky we are, talk about how blessed we are, rather than being stressed by the pressure of it all. We have – you can feel the weight of the nation willing us on tomorrow night and you know I envy the guys that they are on the field. I remember that feeling as a player, but certainly as a coach you forget how lucky we are,” Rowntree said.

Asked what he and head coach Stuart Lancaster’s last words would be before the team runs out for Saturday night’s showdown, Rowntree said: “We won’t have to say much because the work’s done. The work’s done in the week. The guys are getting ready for a game like tomorrow night emotionally and mentally; they know what’s at stake and their last words will be positive.”

A more useful message, perhaps, might be “behave at the breakdown”.

England contributed to their own downfall in last week’s defeat by Wales by continually offending at the tackle area, despite Lancaster’s assurances that they had talked all week about not doing exactly that.

So it has again been the focus of attention, all the more so with Australia fielding two renowned breakdown operators in the shape of Michael Hooper and David Pocock

Rowntree had a possible answer.

“Composure. Trained well this week. It was always going to be a big game, a pool game against Australia. Very good team, one of the best in the world. But we’ve trained exceptionally well this week. Last week has hardened us. There’s been a real focus about what we’ve done this week, a real focus. Trained well, because we’re going to have to have some composure if we’re going to beat one of the best teams in the world,” said the forwards coach.