Lawrence Dallaglio today insisted England’s spectacular winning run was all a matter of conscience.
And he explained how the England team have used the bitter taste of past defeat to garner present success as they bid for their eighth Test triumph in a row when the Six Nations Championship resumes against France at Twickenham on Saturday.
‘‘We’ve had some pretty glorious victories but we’ve also had some pretty inglorious defeats,’’ admitted Dallaglio.
‘‘No-one wants to go down the latter road again. Every game we play throughout this championship there’s a little conscience knocking on the door.
‘‘Against Wales it was ‘remember Wembley’, against Scotland it was ‘remember Murrayfield’. This one against France it’s ‘remember Twickenham’ because of a few years ago when we were 20-6 up and we lost in the last couple of minutes. So there’s no way we would go into the game over-confident.’’
England have rarely collapsed as spectacularly as they did in that game in 1997 when they conceded 17 unanswered points in the last quarter, finally being overhauled by a Christophe Lamaison penalty with just three minutes remaining.
Under Clive Woodward’s battle-hardened regime such a collapse is virtually unthinkable.
‘‘We’ve got an inner steel now which says that if we do get beaten, and eventually some side will beat us, we want them to be a very good team and to have to play exceptionally well,’’ says Dallaglio.
‘‘If you get beaten by a very good team after playing well you have to go away and learn from it. If you don’t give a good account of yourselves and get beaten that’s unacceptable.’’
Despite England’s inner resolve, which has brought nine consecutive victories at Twickenham since their last defeat at rugby HQ by New Zealand, Dallaglio also warns of a Gallic backlash, the French having taken just four points from their four Six Nations games so far this season.
‘‘If you know the French psyche which I do a bit, you know the two fixtures which get the blood boiling are the All Blacks and England,’’ says Dallaglio.
‘‘They’ll be really gunning for it on Saturday. They’ve taken a lot of stick and they know a big performance at Twickenham against England can turn their season around and get rid of the critics.’’
Dallaglio, however, pinpoints the one big difference in England from past seasons is their finishing power a lack of which almost cost them dear in last season’s battle in the Stade de France when Austin Healey and Simon Shaw were sin-binned in a frantic finale.
‘‘We created many opportunities against France last year but didn’t finish them off,’’ says Dallaglio on that 15-9 victory which was achieved by five penalties from fly-half Jonny Wilkinson.
‘‘We almost invited them to win that game. It was backs to the wall in the last 10 minutes and I was fortunate to stay on the pitch myself.
‘‘You have to be prepared to defend for the whole game. So many of the Tri-nations games are won in the last few minutes. It was a little bit fraught last year and a lot of people would have been biting their finger nails in the stands.
‘‘But last year is last year and success is very much like a perishable fruit. You have to replace it every week. Just because we won in France doesn’t mean we’ll win at Twickenham. It doesn’t work like that.
‘‘But the greatest area of improvement in our work this year has been the finishing. We just want to build on where we were before the break caused by foot-and-mouth.
‘‘It will be a passionate crowd and we want to make Twickenham a very difficult place for teams to come. We are slowly beginning to do that.’’