- “We want to push the players to places they have never been to before”
- Rowntree hails efforts of Itoje and Burgess
Graham Rowntree will not begin intricate technical preparations for another 10 days or so, but the former Leicester Tiger is already excited about moulding a pack to challenge for Rugby World Cup glory this autumn.
Ahead of what he described as a “horrible” Tuesday afternoon of endurance drills at Pennyhill Park, England Forwards Coach Rowntree underlined the need for stratospheric fitness levels as his charges prepare to host the sport’s premier competition.
With Alex Goode, Stephen Myler and Luther Burrell set to return from nagging injuries this week, there is a full 50-man roster for England’s coaches to monitor. And though their time with a rugby ball is currently reduced to skills sessions under Mike Catt and Andy Farrell, there is plenty at stake.
“We’re looking for endeavour,” Rowntree explained. “We want to push the players to places they have never been to before. That’s what it is going to take to win a World Cup.
“We have an excellent programme in place. It’s well thought-out, relevant training. There’s a lot of running – we’ve shown how we want to play the game. They’ve taken to it very well so far.
“The rugby will really kick in when we get to Denver. It’s a long competition, so we will give them the time to be as fit as they can be and then we’ll trickle the rugby in.”
Stuart Lancaster and his lieutenants met with World Rugby Match Official Manager Joel Jutge back in April to discuss the new refereeing directives that will see a stringent observation of rolling mauls.
Rowntree said the “outstanding rugby” on show in last weekend’s Super 15 semi-finals – a 29-9 victory for the Hurricanes over the Brumbies and the Highlanders’ 35-17 defeat of the Waratahs – provided insight into what to expect.
Bringing focus back to England, he then hailed the group of “fit, talented men” that are vying for places in the final 31-player party. Today, such competition will manifest itself in the shape of arduous running in 30° Celsius heat.
Indeed, Rowntree stressed that “the blend of experience and dynamic, young lads coming through” was a refreshing one. He finished with some initial thoughts on two newcomers to the senior fold in Maro Itoje and Sam Burgess.
“Maro’s rugby speaks for itself and he will keep developing in a great set-up and under some great coaches at Saracens. He’s captained their A League, he captained England Under 20 last year. He’s a leader.
“He’s come in here and got on with things. He’s not been eclipsed by the bigger names – Launchbury, Lawes, Parling, Attwood, Slater, Kruis. He’s taken to the hard training like a duck to water and he’s going to be a special player.”
Joking that Bath Rugby league convert Burgess was “too good looking to be a forward,” Rowntree explained that the England set-up was yet to decide on his role.
“We’re doing generic rugby skills at the minute and we’ll make that decision[on position] in a few weeks’ time. What I have been impressed with is the way he’s taken to union.
“He’s learnt a lot and has a great work-rate with some appropriate physicality. He’s good around the group. He has an aura around him – he’s achieved everything he has in league for a reason.”