The last time a full England side took to a rugby pitch, a massacre took place. England were blown away by 30 points to three by great rivals Wales, losing in an instant not only a Grand Slam and a Six Nations title, but also their pride. ‘Bouncebackability’ has become a bit of a cliché, but how sportsmen recover from such soul-destroying losses can define their careers.
Just ask Lewis Moody. He was the man that leapt into the Sydney air to win the all-important line-out just seconds before Jonny Wilkinson slotted the most famous drop-goal ever in the Rugby World Cup final in 2003. The years leading up to that moment, however, had been tough for the England camp.
“I remember back to 2003, when Clive (Woodward) was developing his side with Johno (Martin Johnson) – that side lost three Grand Slam games before they won one,” recalls Moody.
“We learnt from those mistakes, and the disappointment that created. It made you hungrier to win and that’s what we did. So I hope that’s what will happen with this England side.”
If losses can sometimes be vital in terms of learning from your mistakes, it is obviously never what you strive for as a sportsman. Indeed, Moody thinks the aim in the England camp will be to come away from Twickenham at the end of November unbeaten, although how realistic that is, is another matter.
“I’m fairly confident they’ll be aiming for three wins,” he says. “What will they count as a success? I think two out of three.”
England face an Australia team whose form has been wobbly, to say the least, followed by Argentina and World Champions New Zealand. While two wins out of those three will seem like the absolute minimum requirement to many fans, Moody is not so sure England will have such an easy time of it at HQ this autumn.
“I just think it’s going to be a very tough campaign for Stuart (Lancaster) and the team,” he says. “They’ve got the ability, and the players, to win three out of three, but if they don’t get it right, it could be a very difficult campaign for them.
“There are positions in which he is definitely still trying to find the right combinations – the wings, the centre partnership, the second row. But teams know what they’re capable of, now they’ve seen these young guys.”
Of course last year the November campaign was heralded as a great success thanks to the astonishing win over New Zealand, but it is easy to forget that, prior to that game, came two hugely disappointing losses to the Southern Hemisphere’s other big two.
“Last autumn, had they not beaten New Zealand, we would have been looking at a very different situation, and it could have been a very different team come the Six Nations. That one win propelled everything forward.”
It follows, then, that England need a similar win, or set of wins, to keep them on the right track, and prove that that was not just a fluke. Momentum is a word oft overused in sport, but after that Wales game it is something England need this autumn.
Moody is confident that the first part of the jigsaw – picking a captain – has fallen into place correctly.
“It’s great that Chris has retained the captaincy,” says the former Leicester and Bath flanker. “There’s been a lot of pressure on him, from (Matt) Kvesic and (Tom) Wood obviously having good summer tours in Argentina, and whenever you’re captain, there’s always clamour for someone else to take the role.”
He admits, however, that at some point soon, with the shadow of the 2015 World Cup looming ever darker, Lancaster will have to try out some of the younger guys to ensure they can cut the mustard should they be called into action.
“I would really like to see Kvesic or (Luke) Wallace given a go,” he says. “They’re the two young guys that have really impressed me – Fraser, I’ve not really seen enough of to comment on.
“You’re looking to 2015 – that’s what Stuart’s eyes are on really – and growing that side, so he knows what he’s got at his disposal and he’ll be giving them a chance when he sees fit. You see his loyalty to Chris, which is quite right because he’s done a fantastic job, but he knows that at some point, if Chris isn’t hitting those standards, then there are a couple of young guys that are going to be very keen to take his place.”
Even though it is still two years away, in the scheme of the international calendar there are not that many games left until RWC 2015. Moody claims there is still plenty of time, however, for younger guys to stake their claim, but says what is really important is finding the right balance.
“Stuart knows what he wants to get out of his side, he knows the experience he needs to win a World Cup, the number of caps he needs, and he’s building that platform now.
“He’s got a load of guys with a good deal of experience, and then he’s had guys like Launchbury and Youngs who have had meteoric rises, so he’s had some really good successes. They’re building in exactly the right manner for 2015.”
With two years until the World Cup takes place on the very turf onto which England will run this weekend to play Australia, it is time for a marker to be put down. Agonising failure may very well breed success, as was the case in 2003, but after the crushing disappointment of Cardiff seven months ago, any more of it could be crippling.
Lewis Moody’s England XV to take on Australia:
15. Mike Brown 14. Chris Ashton 13. Henry Trinder 12. Billy Twelvetrees 11. Marland Yarde 10. Owen Farrell 9. Ben Youngs 1. Mako Vunipola 2. Tom Youngs 3. Dave Wilson 4. Geoff Parling 5. Courtney Lawes 6. Tom Wood 7. Chris Robshaw 8. Billy Vunipola
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Lewis Moody is the official landlord of the new Guinness Surge Bar in the West Car Park at Twickenham. For more information visit Facebook.com/GuinnessGB