Stevens: Autumn results not essential for England

Ross McLean
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FORMER British Lions prop Matt Stevens insists England’s World Cup destiny does not hinge on landing knockout blows and toppling the world’s best during the upcoming autumn internationals.

Stuart Lancaster’s side begin their southern hemisphere examination with a clash against New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday 8 November before showdowns with South Africa, Samoa and Australia.

Ex-England powerhouse Lawrence Dallaglio has suggested Lancaster’s charges need to record at least two victories in the QBE series to showcase their intent and prove they possess a trophy-winning mentality.

But while Stevens sees huge benefits in slaying some of the likely challengers for silverware next September, the 32-year-old does not believe England’s fate rests solely on results so far in advance.

“Any team this close to a tournament is going to want to take the self-belief from winning and beating southern hemisphere teams as that will only bolster confidence,” Stevens told City A.M.

“All victories in Test rugby breed confidence and there is no doubt a couple of wins would be a huge boost to the boys in the team but it is not the life and death of England’s World Cup chances.

“It is always important to lay down a marker if you can but in no way would it sound the death knell for England’s prospects at the World Cup should they not register two wins.

“There are a lot of factors which add up to having a successful tournament, I remember in 2007 being part of the England squad which reached the final after a less than ideal set of results the previous autumn.”

Stevens won 44 England caps before announcing his international retirement in 2012, bidding farewell to these shores in the summer after resurrecting his career with Saracens following a lengthy stint at Bath.

Now back in his native South Africa playing for the Sharks, Stevens is ideally placed to objectively assess the state of the England team and the production line of talent produced by the Premiership.

“England are in a good place a year from the World Cup and the ball really is in their court from here,” he added. “There is a good culture in the squad and there is a quality of player and strength in depth in vital positions.

“The Premiership has a lot to be proud of and the level has soared in the last five years. Together with the Heineken Cup it has been breeding powerful international players that can compete at the highest levels.”

Stevens’ final two games for Saracens resulted in disappointment as the Allianz Park side slipped to defeat in successive finals against Northampton Saints and Toulon.

And while adamant the double blow will have galvanised Sarries, Stevens is targeting his own shot at Twickenham redemption as one of seven South African-based forwards selected for Barbarians duty against Australia.

“I am a massive Saracens convert like every player that passes through there,” said Stevens. “I was proud to be a part of what the club is all about.

“Finals rugby is a fickle thing but those defeats will definitely have made the players stronger. It will be a huge honour to be back at Twickenham and playing for the Barbarians is something any player would be proud of doing. It’s one of the great traditions of the game.”

Matt Stevens lines up for the Barbarians against Australia in the Killik Cup match at Twickenham on Saturday November 1

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