England’s head coach Stuart Lancaster has promised that players who don’t meet the team’s fitness standards will dropped from the team as they move through the World Cup selection process in the coming three months.
“You have to be the fittest team” to win the World Cup, Lancaster has said. If the team isn’t supremely fit, he added, then “everything falls apart” — from their ability to play and sustain a high tempo to their ability to make decisions well.
Players will get a break for the end of the season, but they can’t have too much worth of a break, since once it gets down to 50/50 calls, he noted, the deciding factor might simply be which player is fittest.
Lancaster has stated he will be picking his first-choice team to go up against France during England’s 2nd-of-3 warm-up friendly matches (this one will be in Paris). Fitness overall will be particularly crucial since 24-25 players might have to play every of the 9 possible matches from that point all the way through to the final at Twickenham in October. England will kick off the pool against Fiji come 18 September and then face Australia, Wales, and Uruguay. Lancaster stated that “you’d be a fool” for not picking the 1st-choice team to go against Fiji.
Depending on the results, even the last and easy-looking pool match against Uruguay could end up being a chase for tries and points, which could make it an unexpectedly exciting experience for fans with tickets to the Rugby World Cup.
Still, Lancaster is hoping it won’t come to that. After all, “We scored 18” different tries during the Six Nations Championship, more than any other rugby team in a long time, and felt they should have managed 24. He feels not having finished off opportunities ended up costing them, and he’d like to improve on that point.
The summer rugby schedule will start on 22 June with fitness tests in Surry, and last Wednesday Lancaster announced the 50-man training squad with another 8 players listed as potential later-on additions. England will bring 45 of those players over to Colorado for a July two-week altitude training camp, and 9 of those will be jettisoned when they get back. That will leave 36 for playing the home and away friendlies with France, starting with the one at Twickenham scheduled for 15 August) and then they will make a last cull down to 31 who will be submitted to the World Cup organisers for the 31 August deadline. The last warm-up game will be on 5 September against Ireland.
Lancaster continued that this year’s squad will be even fitter than any other time during his tenure back to January of 2012. They have developed a benchmark of what the national team will need and they want to achieve an additional 10 percent. Denver “will be grim” to the players, he said, having been there and concluded that “it is tough,” but then they will go to Vail and that is at an even higher altitude. He concluded that this experience, which will improve their aerobic capacity and is effective at stripping off body fat, will let them come back leaner and fitter, and those who are not “will be going home.”