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Anthony Watson: World Cup pain fuelling England’s drive for Final say this time

Anthony Watson says losing the World Cup final has him fired up for the climax to the Autumn Nations Cup.

The competition has delivered little by way of entertainment and its credibility has been badly undermined by France picking a second team for the final.

Billy Vunipola admitted: “As much as people want to build it up, this is not a World Cup final.”

But Watson, still haunted by England’s crushing loss to South Africa in Japan, insists Sunday’s showpiece is vital to England’s growth towards the next World Cup.

Watson cannot prevent Cheslin Kolbe scoring South Africa’s decisive try in World Cup final

England players cut dejected figures at the final whistle

“We lost to France in the Six Nations, we also lost the last final we played in,” he said. “This is a big deal. I don’t think the lads will be short on motivation.

“We want to win trophies, irrelevant whether it’s a tournament that’s just been made or one that’s been there for however many years.

“Putting yourself in finals is where you measure yourself as a player. It’s the highest pressure game you can play, a real test of you as a player and as a team.”

Watson on charge during England’s win in Wales last week

A year ago England failed that test badly in Yokohama a week after playing New Zealand off the same pitch. The memory eats away at Watson.

“I’m not going to sit here and say I’ll get over it because I don’t think I ever will,” he said. “It’s about getting used to these finals and putting our gameplan into force, which we didn’t do in the last final.

“We haven’t focused directly on the tactics of the World Cup final, more that we were favourites going in and didn’t do what we said we were going to do. There were issues with the training week.”

Watson (right) arrives home from World Cup with England team mate Tom Curry

Issues? “Minute things,” he replied. “Or things we thought were minute that probably should have been spoken about and weren’t.”

Watson says the difference was “probably just an edge, those one percenters in training”, but it amounted to the difference between dominating the All Blacks and being battered by the Boks.

England still don’t know with any certainty why they blew their biggest game and are working through a checklist of possible causes to try to insure against a repeat in 2023.

Watson (second right) after scoring in World Cup quarter-final win over Australia

The coaches continue to wonder whether they got the preparation wrong in terms of physical and emotional balance, coming off such a high as the semi-final.

“It’s all about initiating the pressure and a year ago we weren’t able to,” defence coach John Mitchell said. “To do that you’ve got to be very clear, tactically.”

Get that right on Sunday and he hopes a by-product will be payback for France for England’s one defeat of 2020.

England (above and below) were knocked off their stride by France when the sides met in Six Nations, their only defeat this year


“It’s something that sits with us, something that at some stage you want to settle,” he said. “To make sure you’ve learnt from it.”

Vunipola claims the return of fans on Sunday, when 2,000 will be allowed into Twickenham, will inspire a much-needed upturn in rugby’s entertainment factor.

“Having fans there is massive because they add to the atmosphere,” he said. “When people are there, we want to entertain them.

Billy Vunipola, pictured during last week’s arm-wrestle in Wales, hopes return of fans will help up rugby’s entertainment factor

“It’s a bit like when you were younger and the girls used to turn up to PE and you always wanted to show off.

“I watch a lot of rugby and sometimes it can be a bit tough to keep your focus, especially when you’ve got your phone and your iPad and everything around you.”




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