By Mitch Phillips
TOKYO (Reuters) – England cannot sit back and wait for the Webb Ellis Cup to be handed to them on a plate in Saturday’s World Cup final and their 2016 Grand Slam-deciding match in France was a great lesson in seizing the moment, coach Eddie Jones has said.
England had already secured the Six Nations title when they travelled to Paris and were cruising at 17-6 after 20 minutes but lost their way, and their discipline, to allow the hosts to fight back to within two points.
However, they regained the initiative to run out 31-21 winners and secure their first clean sweep since 2003 in Jones’s first campaign, and the Australian said that win held extra significance coming into the Saturday’s final against South Africa.
“In any team’s development you have wins that are important and losses that are important and when I think about this team, one of the most important was the 2016 Grand Slam game,” Jones told a news conference on Thursday.
“We started probably within ourselves and it took us until the second half to find ourselves. It’s a great lesson for this week that we have to go out there and make the game. We can’t afford to expect South Africa to give us the game.
“Our whole mindset this week is about taking the game to them, playing with no fear, where can we take our game to? What level can we take our game to?”
Jones would love a repeat of last week’s semi-final against New Zealand.
England blasted out of the blocks to score a try inside two minutes and kept up the assault so relentlessly that they became only the second team to keep the All Blacks scoreless at halftime in a World Cup match.
But he wants even more.
“We can definitely play better,” he said. “The players know that. There’s a steeliness about them this week but also a nice relaxed feeling because they know they’ve done the work so they can get on with the job.
“We are a bit anxious, a bit nervous, but also very excited about the prospect of playing even better.”
Since taking over after England went out in the pool stage four years ago Jones has been consistently saying his aim was to make them the best team in the world.
Last week’s win over the double defending champions confirmed that as England topped the rankings for the first time since 2004, but he said external validation was irrelevant.
“We have had a simple approach to this tournament. Every day we try to get better. Every week we try to get better and each game is an opportunity for us to get better so we just have to continue down that track,” he said.
“We don’t have to worry about number one rankings. The concern is, ‘can we get better tomorrow and then can we play better the previous week?’
“That simple approach for us has worked. It frees us up, allows us to play with a discipline but also a freedom to use the skills in the team so that’s why we feel like we are ready to go on Saturday.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)