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Stressed? We're blessed, says Rowntree

2015-10-02 23:03
Graham Rowntree (Gallo Images)

London - Graham Rowntree had a long but painful association with the Rugby World Cup as a player and on Friday reminded the current England side to embrace the occasion when they face Australia in Saturday's monumental Twickenham clash.

The 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 who went on to win the 2003 tournament.

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 he had no truck for suggestions that the current squad might not deal with the pressure of a match they have to win to almost certainly avoid the ignominy of becoming the first England team not to make the quarter-finals.

"You have to keep pinching yourselves, realising how lucky you are, how blessed we are rather than being stressed by the pressure of it all," Rowntree said.

"You can feel the weight of the nation willing us on tomorrow night and I envy the guys who are out on the field. I remember that feeling as a player and you cannot forget how lucky we are."

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 is done.

"Emotionally and mentally they know what's at stake. The last things we say 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

"The breakdown is always a battle - look at last week," Rowntree said.

"We drill it and train it every day. Their back row will be a real threat and our speed to the breakdown will be critical, but it is all about composure.

"It's about doing your job right in the heat of battle. I've been through some of those situations and that's what it's all about - it's as boring as that."

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