Cueto eyes WC joy
Mark Cueto tells skysports.com the omens look good for England in the build up to the World Cup.
By Chris Burton
Last Updated: 22/10/10 11:34am
Mark Cueto believes the omens look good for England as they continue with their World Cup countdown.
Despite reaching the final in Paris three years ago, the fallout from that unexpected success left the national side in tatters, rather than in a position to build for the future.
Brian Ashton's team was a shadow of that which conquered the world in 2003 and England appeared to be on a slippery slope.
Martin Johnson, World Cup winner and national hero, was drafted in to help turn the tide, but even he lacked the Midas touch when it came to coaxing the best out of an under-performing squad.
He does, however, appear to have finally got England's house in order and there is now the promise of more to come from a young and vibrant side.
Belief within the camp has returned, helped in no small part by a 21-20 victory over Australia in Sydney over the summer, and there is a feeling that Johnson's men could be about to reach their peak by the time the World Cup swings open its doors in Auckland on 9th September 2011.
An intriguing blend of experience and youth has broken free of the shackles which have held England back for too long, while the endless chopping and changing of tactics and personnel has started to ease.
Among the familiar faces still plying his trade at the highest level, and as determined as ever to play his part in any future success, is Sale Sharks winger Cueto.
A seasoned performer with six years of international experience behind him, the 30-year-old has been there, done it and got the T-shirt.
With that in mind, it stirs wild, patriotic expectation when he says that the current England set-up is developing at pace and should be regarded as challengers for the global crown next year - providing there are no major mishaps over the next 12 months.
"We haven't been in camp since August, so it's a long time since we have been together, but you speak to the guys outside the calendar and you speak to the coaches," Cueto told skysports.com.
"Everyone's buzzing off the back of the win in Australia and everyone's really optimistic that we're on our way to where we want to be at. There's obviously a long way to go until the World Cup, but we are definitely on the right road. We are more settled and we are looking forward to the autumn internationals."
Cueto believes one of the reasons behind the upturn in fortune is that Johnson has had the luxury of being able to select from a settled squad for a prolonged period of time, something denied him during the early part of his reign.
"That's part of the battle of international rugby," said Cueto.
"From the manager and the coach's point of view, it's about getting consistency. You look at a lot of the successful teams, at international and club level, they are the teams that have been together for a while, have got the game time and minutes on the field and feel comfortable with everyone else.
"For one reason or another over the last couple of years we haven't been able to sustain that consistency with selection, whether that's through injury or another reason.
"For a couple of years we went through a lot of players, but in the last 12-18 months we have started playing with a consistent group of 32-34 players in the squad. That's the sort of thing that brings rewards and I'm sure that's one of the reasons why we went so well in Australia. We are managing to keep players fit and playing well, so with that the consistency flows through the squad and you start picking up results."
Cueto admits attention is now much more focused on results than rebuilding and fine-tuning, with it about time England started to turn potential into something more tangible.
"It's difficult because so much can happen in 12 months, but it's such a short period of time and the coaches are looking to get the squad as settled as they can," he added.
"You look at the build up to the '03 World Cup, for two years prior to that the team didn't really change. They won 17 or 18 games on the bounce and you can't get much better preparation for a World Cup than that.
"It would be great if it went like that for the next 12 months, but you have to understand the challenges that are ahead. We just have to keep going the way we are and that will put us in the best possible shape for next year."
England are not in a bad position right now, ahead of autumn internationals against New Zealand, Australia, Samoa and South Africa, and Cueto believes the organisation of the camp and the strength in depth which exits within the squad has Johnson's side in better shape than the one which fell agonisingly short in 2007.
He said: "I think it is. Prior to the '07 World Cup there had been changes in management and changes in coaches. Only a year or two prior to the World Cup, around the time Brian Ashton came in, there seemed to be a lack of that consistency that we are mentioning now.
"But at the minute the squad seems really settled and with that the players build relationships with coaches and understand what they want. It leads to a healthy squad, but we still have to get results."
Part of England's strength at the moment is the versatility they boast within their ranks, with any number of players capable of playing in a variety of positions.
Cueto, who can operate at full-back or on the wing, falls into the category and he believes the ability to mix and match will stand England in good stead heading forward.
"That's the strength of the squad, not only in the back three but all over the pitch," he said.
"We have got players who can play in more than one position, we're not a team that x, y and z have an out-and-out preferred position. I can play wing or full-back, Fodes (Ben Foden) can play on the wing or at full-back, Ash (Chris Ashton) can play on the wing or at full-back. We are quite a versatile bunch of players.
"We have all got preferences, but when it comes down to it you just want to be playing and be in that starting XV, whether it's in your preferred position or not. It doesn't matter if you're on the right or the left or at full-back, whatever is best for the team you will always go with."
Cueto is more determined than most to hold down a regular role at present, as he is closing in on an impressive milestone.
He currently sits on 41 caps for his country and admits that it would give him immense pride were he able to rack up a half-century of appearances.
"Touch wood, that's a massive target of mine," he said.
"If everything goes well and I concentrate on the here and now and I am doing well week in, week out, then hopefully that 50 will come. Once you get to 20-30 caps, you ask any player, 50 starts to become a target. For any player it's a massive achievement to get there. Fingers crossed I can get there."