Whether it is two years to go or two days to go, milestones turn all of our attention to a specific event and for England Rugby there will be many over the coming weeks and indeed months. On July 31st we celebrated '100 days to go' before the 2014 QBE Internationals and this turned my thoughts to reflect back on the development of England Rugby since the 2013 Internationals.
In a little under twelve months England have played 8 more First Team Test matches, they have scored 193 points and conceded 149 points. From the statistics alone you might deduce that it hasn't been a particularly significant year for England Rugby, however I'm sure you'll agree with me when I point out that it has.
Over the course of their 8 Test matches England have grown, they have built match on match, and come of age before our very eyes. England now play a patient style of rugby, one that is confident in its own abilities and does not force proceedings. Their pace and flair is greater than ever before but it is delivered at the right time instead of being constantly forced. Being under the cosh no longer phases Robshaw and his men nor does a huge weight of expectation to win. However underneath their calm and composed exterior there is a desire to prove themselves, a desire that is greater than ever before. Every single member of the England set up knows the weight of expectation that is on them so close to a home RWC, they feel it acutely already and are getting used to carrying such a burden. Come the 18th September 2015 they won't suddenly be hit with a tidal wave of emotions because they will have carried their own huge burden for months prior.
Over the past twelve months England's depth of talent has deepened to a point where in every position there are at least two or even three truly viable options. For Stuart Lancaster and his team selection headaches are constant, and I'm sure welcomed. A World Cup is not won by fifteen players, it is won by a squad that is filled with talent, a squad that is pushing each other every step of the way and England now have that. The long term injuries to key men last season including the likes of Tom Croft and Alex Corbisiero and the summer scheduling fiasco allowed others to step into the frame and push their causes. To a man they did so with conviction and the development of England's talent pool over the past twelve months has been substantial.
The Summer Tour to New Zealand was the ultimate test of their maturity and like a teenager being sent away to university for the very first time there were a couple of hick ups and life lessons learned. Against the best in the world only constant and unrelenting pressure will suffice in order to success; eighty minute performances must be delivered, not sixty or forty. However their failure to win a test against the All Blacks should not mean that the entire year itself is also labelled in that manner. England's reaction to their losses equally showed huge progression, their standards are higher than ever, their upset and frank analysis of their losses signal a new age in English rugby. It is an age that reminds you of a certain famous England squad and their unremitting quest to be the best in the world.
Twelve months, three hundred and sixty five days, is a long time in rugby and if England make the same amount of progression that they have done since this time last year then there is no reason why they won't head into the World Cup confident and fully ready to take on the monumentous task at hand.
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