FORMER Wasps and England back Josh Lewsey believes the national team has blossomed during the last year because players have fallen in love with the game once again.
Martin Johnson’s men have followed up an encouraging summer with more success this autumn, including wins over Samoa and old enemies Australia, and a hard-fought defeat to New Zealand.
World Cup-winner Lewsey is tipping them to sign off 2010 on a high note by beating world champions South Africa in Saturday’s final Investec International at Twickenham. And he argues that a trio of factors have brought about the marked improvement, chiefly the squad’s reacquaintance with the joy of playing the game.
“Since the end of last season there has been a transition in England’s fortunes. They’ve played some fantastic rugby and have beaten some of the best teams in the world,” Lewsey told City A.M. “I think there have been three factors. Young players have been coming through and playing well. The reinterpretation of the laws forcing teams to play more rugby has helped.
“What’s more, there has been a change in the environment. The coaches seem more aligned in what they’re doing and the players look like they’re enjoying it. Twelve months ago you got the impression it was a chore. I don’t know what’s occurred but there is more unity and when you get that it’s beautiful to see, and you can achieve great things.”
Victory over the Springboks would make it three from four for England this month and raise hopes of a sustained assault on next year’s World Cup in New Zealand. Lewsey insists this weekend’s result is not all-important, but says he has seen evidence the current team is equipped to challenge for the biggest prizes.
“I know the press like looking at wins and losses but it’s how England have done on a grander scale,” added Lewsey, now a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers. “They’ve beaten Australia twice and pushed New Zealand close. Last week was far more niggly but showed they have the ability to play it tight and close. You need versatility to win a World Cup.”
South Africa arrive in London smarting from a shock defeat to Scotland and rocked by injuries and positive drug tests. But rather than being vulnerable, Lewsey expects the adversity to make the tourists more dangerous. He said: “South Africa are perhaps on the way down [from their 2007 World Cup win] but the sign of a class side is that they never put in two bad performances in a row, and they’ll be seething from last week.”
Josh Lewsey was talking on behalf of Land Rover who have become an Official Sponsor of Rugby World Cup 2011 and a Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2015, extending a long-standing heritage within the sport. For more information visit www.landrover.co.uk/rugby