RBS 6 Nations: England going for Grand Slam glory against Wales in Cardiff
Stuart Lancaster says sealing Grand Slam glory would stand England in great stead for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Last Updated: 15/03/13 10:22am
His side have that opportunity against Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday and the England coach recognises it would be a significant staging post in his four-year plan to bring the Webb Ellis Cup back to Twickenham in 2015.
''When I took over I didn't have a 2013 Grand Slam down as a target. The long-term plan is to build a team with the required experience by 2015,'' Lancaster said.
''As part of that experience you want the players to play in a game that's akin to a final, which is basically what this game is.
''It's a brilliant experience for the players and it will certainly help us with that long-term plan.
''(To win a Grand Slam) would give you that inner confidence and belief that you can win in big games and finals.
''We've got other challenges coming our way - we're going to Argentina in the summer, we've got three autumn internationals, we've got the 2014 Six Nations and we've got a three-Test tour to New Zealand.
''Learning to win the southern hemisphere will be part of it as well - but the reality is that come 2015 we're going to be playing Wales in a huge pool game.
''The more experience you can get of playing under the pressure of these type of games the better for the players.''
England eye history
England have won 12 Grand Slams but they have never sealed one in Cardiff and Lancaster feels there would be no better fixture in which to create a slice of history.
''I don't think (there is a better fixture), not in the context of where we are,'' Lancaster said.
''Both sides have got the chance to win the championship, so effectively it's a shootout. In that sense to go to Cardiff and try and win a Grand Slam is a great test.''
England go into the match at full strength after Joe Launchbury (elbow) and Geoff Parling (shoulder) passed breakfast-time fitness tests on Thursday to keep their places in the second row.
Lancaster has made four changes from the 18-11 win against Italy. Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs return in the half-backs, Tom Croft has replaced James Haskell at blindside flanker and Joe Marler got the nod ahead of Mako Vunipola.
Farrell missed the win against Italy with a thigh strain but he has been brought straight back, with Lancaster expecting his ''unique'' fly-half to thrive in the Millennium Stadium cauldron.
''He has what very few young players have particularly in the fly half position that big game temperament and the ability to rise to the occasion,'' Lancaster said.
''He doesn't seem fazed by an occasion. Indeed the bigger the occasion, the more he seems to step up.
''He has been outstanding in terms of providing leadership and direction to the team. The execution of his core skills - goal-kicking, line-kicking, his passing ability, his strong defence - has been excellent.
''He leads that defensive line and that defensive press very well.''
England opened their campaign by running four tries past Scotland but their three victories over Ireland, France and Italy were down to character, resilience and defensive fortitude.
Those qualities are the bedrock of Lancaster's England side, forged through moments of adversity over the last 14 months and the reason his men go to Wales ''with a quiet confidence''.
Hard to beat
''We're hard to beat because we're strong at the basics. Our set piece is strong, our defence is strong, but most importantly our attitude and desire to work for each other is strong,'' Lancaster said.
''There have been some defining moments in the development of that, none more so than at Ellis Park last summer when we were 25-3 down to South Africa, playing at altitude, playing in a firestorm, getting back to 31-27.
''We went to Ireland and won in difficult conditions, we played a hugely motivated French side at Twickenham and won and then came under the pump against Italy.
''Even when we were not playing well we only conceded five penalties. That is massive at the highest level.
''That was down to character and work-rate. You draw on that.''