I watched the England-France game on Saturday, and amazingly England beat the host nation. It was a very close game with little great rugby to shout about. What a thrilling encounter between two evenly matched sides. The game could have swung either way, any time to the final whistle. Commiserations to the French team and their supporters.
Considering how poor England performed in the early games of this tournament, and the results they've recently achieved over more strongly favoured nations, what can be attributed to the turnaround in their game? From the newspaper and online reports I've read, there are a number of things.
The return of Jonny Wilkinson
Wilkinson is such a vital component of the England team, when he's absent, the team limps along. His kicking is superb, most of the time. (Recently his kickin from has been average). Wilkinson has been plagued with injuries and since his return, and has not found his sniper-like accuracy with his kicks. His work rate is truly amazing. He throws himself at any opposing player, no matter their size. This attitude infects his team mates and they develop dogged can-do mentality.
Finding the right team and balance
Brian Ashton, the England coach inherited a dispirited team that limped from one beating to the next. Its taken Ashton a while to get a feel for the team and the players. Getting them to gel, to play cohesively and to play for each other has taken time. Ashton had to rethink his game play in the light of poor early results. Ashton was initially reluctant to play the power-game, in favour of a more attacking approach, as had Robinson his predecessor.
Rediscovering the desire and will to win
A team that has little desire to win, will win nothing. That's a fact. You can see this in nature. When two animals fight over a carcass, the one with the greatest desire and will to win will get his meal. The other will give up and go elsewhere looking for fresh game or scraps. In sport, it is no different. This cannot be over emphasized.
The belief they can win
The desire to win must be allied to a belief you can win. Without this belief acting as a firm foundation, the enterprise will collapse.
The confidence to support the above
Finally confidence, the all-important ingredient, essential for any success. Without confidence your going nowhere.
Even Liverpool FC's manager Rafa Benitez, realises how important confidence is in achieving results. Listen to his post match interviews and how often he states lack of confidence as a factor in the teams poor performance.