So here we are, the domestic season has finished and the 50 selected for England's Rugby World Cup training camp are getting in some well earned rest and relaxation before they enter the most gruelling and important few months of their lives. Over the past few weeks the misdemeanours of a couple have somewhat clouded our excitement and positivity however right now I'm not going to dwell on them.
We are just 107 days away from the Rugby World Cup and even less from announcement of the 31 man squad and my point is this; England are in the right place to go ahead and have a good crack at this World Cup. This statement isn't based on pure heartfelt patriotism or wishful thinking, it is founded on the development we have witnessed over the past few seasons and contact with England throughout the past few seasons both on match days and at Pennyhill Park. This time three years ago we weren't in the right place and whilst some will argue that getting England to this point was bound to happen due to the natural cycle that teams go through, my personal viewpoint is that we wouldn't have got there organically. Instead the investment, structures and longer term view of England's team at the helm have ensured that this side have arrived mere months from a home World Cup, in a healthy position.
It is fair to say that at times England's Culture is discussed more than their output of the field; it seems to be the area that every single person has an opinion on and a strong one at that. Some say that Stuart is too focused on culture and rules however thee fact of the matter is that after the turbulence prior this was and is necessary. Furthermore I challenge you to find any team, bar the French, that can win without the foundation of a solid and indeed positive culture. Principles are vital when it comes to England, it is a large part of the decision not to U turn the policy on French players, for what type of example would that set the squad if Stuart said 'you guys have to follow strict principles, but I'm the boss and I can do what I want'? Culture alone won't win you matches but you'll be hard pressed to win the one's that matter without it and right now this English national side are as strong as I've seen them. To a man, our England players have the desire to perform for each other on the pitch and to do the jersey justice and whilst you may think that should be a given, it hasn't always been.
The second indication of England being well poised heading into this tournament is the depth of talent that is currently housed within our elite squad... can you remember the last team we had such true depth within a squad? Pockets of depth are usual, all around depth is rare and reading the 50 man training squad there is a strong argument to say that England are currently in the 'all around depth' category. From tighthead prop to full back and everywhere in between there are positive selection headaches and individuals to step in if injuries strike. Jonathan Joseph is leading the way in the thirteen jersey, however Elliot Daly certainly isn't a poor replacement, George Ford leads the way from fly half but would you be upset if Owen Farrell pulled out a performance like his Final for Saracens in the red rose of England? No. Of course Stuart and his team have a fair idea of their 31 man squad and he said so himself following the Barbarians game,we'd be disappointed in him if he didn't know. However the point is this, depth means constant competition in camp and competition means performance levels rising training session on training session, week on week.
If you put pen to paper and jot down your expected 31 man squad and then look at the experience that these players have it is clear that the longer term lens that Stuart and his team put in place during the early days is now bearing the fruits of its labour now. Stuart's first game in charge as Interim Head Coach was an RBS 6 Nations fixture against Scotland in 2012 and it was the game in which amongst others Ben Morgan, Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt and Geoff Parling all made their full debuts and Chris Robshaw captained the side on only his second full cap. Now this debutants men have an average of over twenty caps each and Chris has captained England over thirty times. All have experiences of victories and indeed defeats under their belts, experiences that will be critical under the white hot pressure of a home World Cup. At the time others would have caved to the pressure of delivering in the short term and worried about 2015 the year after however thankfully that was never the plan.
The overarching point is this, over the past few weeks misdemeanours and antics have clouded our judgement ahead of the most exciting period of recent years. Now, with an intense camp and three warm up games to go England are where they should be going into such a daunting and defining period. From this point on every single side will raise their games to the next level courtesy of an extended period of training time together and the question will be how much more do England have to showcase and how will they handle the immense pressure laid at their doorstep? Only time will tell...