Dave Attwood gives Sky Sports an exclusive in-depth insight to the England dressing room
After an agonising defeat in the first Test at Auckland, the Bath second-row reveals the unquenchable sense of belief and desire within an England squad that has sights set on conquering the world…
By Ben Hampshire | @BH92
Last Updated: 11/06/14 1:58pm
Gutting. The only word England lock Dave Attwood could conjure in bid to describe their feeling after suffering a cruel late blow against reigning world champions New Zealand in their series opener on Saturday.
Only a 78th-minute try from Conrad Smith could separate the All Blacks from England, who matched the No 1-ranked nation throughout and came agonisingly close to scuppering their remarkable unbeaten run, which now stands at 31 matches.
Much of the build-up to the opening Test of the first three-match series between the sides centred around the scheduling miscalculation which left Stuart Lancaster, the England head coach, supposedly bereft of resources.
But, as Bath forward Attwood explains, every cloud has a silver lining and there is no space for negativity to reside in this England squad, who vehemently believe they are world-beaters.
Speak to anyone that has been around this camp since 2011 and they will tell of the drive to reconnect with heritage of English rugby which remains the heartbeat of Lancaster’s philosophy.
“You become a bit more immune to the history of other people,” claims Attwood. “When you come with a dead-set belief in your core values, in who you are and where you’re standing, then you generate a kind of confidence and a sense of dedication to what you belief in and what you stand for.
“Once you start to really get in touch with that then your motivation and concentration go through the roof and you can expect bigger performances.”
This growing sense of immunity is exactly why Lancaster and those England players that took to the Eden Park turf will immediately refute claims such a narrow margin is a moral victory for an ‘under strength’ side. Defeat is defeat; and it hurts, that is clear.
“It was gutting,” said Attwood on reflection.
“I think from the outside a lot of people had written the team off before we got on the field, but I have to say from within the camp it was a very different picture. We’re a confident group of players and we felt we have the firepower and ability to really go and take the game to New Zealand.
“We lost it at the death but a lot of people held their hands up and made a great account of their ambition for England and that’s quite exciting, but it was very gutting to lose right at the end.”
There was little respite for this driven England squad, who returned to their team hotel to begin the post-mortem and prepare for their rematch with Steve Hansen’s side at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday.
“It’s about generating momentum and taking positives and fixing the negatives,” said Attwood after claiming his 11th cap. “The start of the week will be pretty calculated in the way we spend our time and how we fix the problems and emphasise the plus points but as the week goes on it will get more and more revved up before the weekend.”
It’s always exciting to be involved with England but especially against New Zealand in New Zealand. There’s something about the size of the Test in front of you that is really something to behold.
Local broadcasters may have been desperate to thrust a microphone before Chris Robshaw at the culmination of the first Test, but they were made to wait as the England captain offered a prolonged rallying cry to his team-mates.
“We saw towards the end of the Premiership a lot of the guys who are out here now, some of the performances teams and players were putting in are a massive credit to them,” Attwood said.
“England is the ultimately the culmination of all that so it’s quite exciting to think what we can produce and Robbo’s message was pretty much that, to belief in what we’re doing, the direction we’re going, the ability we’ve got because we were right in it to the very last minute of the game and on a different day with a bounce of the ball it could have been a very different result.
“The set-piece worked pretty well for us, around the breakdown we were very efficient but I think we were quite error-strewn and our ability to clinical in danger zones and building pressure on the opposition has to come up a gear.
“But there are an awful lot of positives we must take out of that and now we have raise our game again next week. It’s about reaffirming that belief in the squad, in what we’re capable of doing and what we can achieve if we cut out the errors and perform as we’re capable of.”
No doubt, England boast strength-in-depth and confidence in that was boosted in Auckland as several players seized their opportunity to stand toe-to-toe with the world’s best, causing unprecedented selection headaches for Lancaster.
“I certainly don’t envy the position of Stuart Lancaster and the other coaches, they’ve got some very tough decisions ahead of them at the weekend,” admits Attwood, who impressed as a second-half replacement for Joe Launchbury.
“The team that played on the weekend have really made some selection issues, they were written off before and if we’d have fallen apart, it would have been easy to make loads of changes and bring in the guys who were unable to play because of scheduling issues.
“But the guys who played at the weekend played particularly well and it’s by no means going to be a straight swap for anyone, there’s going to be some difficult decisions to make.”
While critics bemoaned the apparent error in judgment which left confined several first-choice England players to the stands, the air of optimism so synonymous with Lancaster remained and with the 2015 World Cup touching down on British soil, Attwood too was eager to accentuate the positives.
“There are fine lines to be drawn,” said the part-time carpenter. “You want to get as much experience into the guys that are going to be in the World Cup squad but as history tells you the players involved in a World Cup squad can change right up until the very last minute so it’s important to develop as much strength and depth as you can.
“Every cloud has a silver lining; perhaps one of the positives to take out of this issue with the scheduling is that a lot more players have had the opportunity to test themselves in this environment.
“For any team that is preparing for the biggest competition in the world to go and play the world No 1 in their own back yard is as difficult-a-test as you set yourself and I have to say a lot of people bought themselves a lot of credit on the weekend.
“We put out a very strong performance and it’s hard to miss the reactions of the people who said it was going to be a drubbing of a second-string England side.
“I don’t think anyone in this camp thought that was going to be the case, I’m gutted that we didn’t get the win but we’re certainly amazingly pleased with the performance we put out.”
The disappointment of defeat is not allowed to linger as England prepare for another showdown with the All Blacks with a just a third win on New Zealand soil firmly in sight, but Attwood is under no illusions, the challenge will be even greater in Dunedin.
“We’re very firm our belief of what we’re able to do and what we’re capable of doing, but as well I’m sure New Zealand will be less error-strewn than they were on the weekend," he claims.
“Whatever team ends up taking to the field will need a bigger performance again. I certainly think they’ll be a bit more clinical. From an England point of view, we had a very good set-piece, breakdown and scrum but we’ll look to be a bit more attacking minded and a bit more switched on.
“I think we caught napping a couple of times and it’s important in a game of rugby that you don’t ever let that happen and that’s the order, they’ll raise themselves physically, they’ll do work on the physical side of their game and we must expect another big clash at the weekend.”
Listening to Attwood you sense this belief is no ‘party line’ but a conviction engrained across the hearts of this England squad, who are not hiding from the fact the world’s premier rugby competition is hitting home soil in 15 months’ time.
“We have to look at it as if we’re expecting to win it,” insists Attwood without hesitation. “We’re out here testing ourselves against New Zealand because that’s the biggest test you can give yourself at the minute; they’re world No 1 so to play them here is a great experience for all the guys who will be involved in the World Cup.
“This squad is very much going to the involved in the team that represents England at the World Cup so for them to come out here and test themselves against this All Blacks team that was undefeated last year and so far this year is about as big-a-test and experience as you can get so it’s important to take every little drop that we can out of this tour in preparation for the World Cup.”
While players have one eye on staking their claim to feature in Lancaster’s World Cup plans Attwood, who made his debut against New Zealand at Twickenham in 2010, is treasuring every step of the “very special” journey.
“It’s always exciting to be involved with England,” said Attwood. “But especially against New Zealand in New Zealand.
“There’s something about the size of the Test in front of you that is really something to behold.”
Get behind-the-scenes news from Dave Attwood and his England team-mates on tour in New Zealand with Player Diary from O2 in partnership with England Rugby, at www.O2InsideLine.com. In the latest edition of the Player Diary, quartet Danny Care, Joe Marler, Luther Burrell and Tom Wood bring you up-to-date with what's been happening at the start of the second Test week.