There aren’t many days that go by without someone coming up to me in the street and saying ‘I remember’,” says Jason Robinson, a Rugby World Cup winner who walked the tightrope of expectancy and secured his place in history.
Robinson scored England’s try as the class of 2003 lived up to their billing as pre-tournament favourites by beating Australia in a nerve-jangling period of extra-time in Sydney and lifting the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time.
Now – after a months of anticipation, a gruelling 10-week training camp and a handful of warm-up matches – it is the turn of Stuart Lancaster’s squad to stare their destiny in the face in the uniquely pressurised environment of a home World Cup.
“This is their time. They have an opportunity to deliver and if they do then they can ultimately win rugby’s biggest prize and it will change their lives forever, as it did ours in 2003,” Robinson told City A.M.
“The key thing is how they handle the pressure. Home advantage can play out one of two ways: it can inspire you to go on and do some amazing things.
“When I got that ball, the expectation of the crowd used to lift me to try and do something special. You can underestimate the value of that. Also, everything is familiar – your coach trip into the game is the same, the changing rooms, everything.
“The flip side of that is the pressure, the expectancy on your shoulders to perform and win games. That can either crush you or take you to another level – and that is what they have got to do as players, not let it crush them.
“They just need to focus and play and not be a rabbit in the headlights. Don’t freeze on the big stage, just go and play because this is what you have been working for all your life, all your career.”
England begin their quest for World Cup majesty against Fiji at Twickenham tonight, safe in the knowledge that in only two of their 12 Tests since the start of the 2014 autumn campaign have they been outscored on tries.
One player credited with England’s attacking renaissance is wing Anthony Watson, a player whose pedigree leads former Sale star Robinson to believe that a starring World Cup role beckons.
“I’m excited by Anthony Watson. He has got the X-factor. He has great feet and great speed and is one of those players that can make things happen. The stage is set. He now has to make his mark on that world stage,” added Robinson.
“When you hear guys like Anthony saying they model their game on you, it’s great to hear and know that what you have done has been picked up on. But this is his time.
“I have been compared to lots of people in the past but it’s all about us talking about Anthony Watson. He is the future of the game and as someone who has been there and done it, you just think ‘wow, this an opportunity to do something amazing’.
“He has got the talent, it’s just now about bringing it to the table.”
Fellow rugby league convert Robinson can also offer insight into the progress of Sam Burgess, who forced his way into Lancaster’s plans and has been named among the replacements for tonight’s clash with the Pacific Nations Cup champions.
Burgess switched codes less than a year ago, while debate remains over his most-suited position – flanker or centre – and whether he has the ability to make a telling impact, having only made his England debut in last month’s warm-up clash against France.
“I’m not sure if I ever fully acclimatised to rugby union,” said Robinson, despite scoring 28 tries in 51 England appearances. “Every day was a learning day and it’s the same for Sam now, he is learning on the job.
“He has been there and done it in one sport but he has started the process of trying to do it in another. The challenge is being able to do it when a lot of people are saying ‘he can’t do this, he can’t do that’.
“But he has been put in a situation where he will have to perform. He will rise to that because he is a winner. The challenge of that is what will excite him over, hopefully, the next six weeks.”
Jason Robinson is a Land Rover ambassador, a Worldwide partner of Rugby World Cup 2015. Land Rover is recruiting all 96 official mascots for the tournament as part of its 'We Deal In Real' campaign. Follow @LandRoverRugby #WeDealInReal