‘Final against France’ are the key words there. England lost their last final, at the World Cup against South Africa 13 months ago, and they followed it up with a Six Nations defeat to France. On both occasions, England have bemoaned their own preparation and been burdened by the tag of favourites, something they carry again this weekend.
It will not matter to them that France will be desperately understrength, with none of the XV who beat England 24-17 in Paris in February available, due to an agreement with the domestic Top 14 clubs. And it matters not that it is the final of a new tournament that has, so far, underwhelmed.
“It is a big deal,” said wing Anthony Watson, who looks likely to start the match in place of the injured Jonathan Joseph.
“We want to win trophies, irrelevant whether it’s the Nations Cup or the Six Nations, a tournament that’s just been made or one that’s been there for however many years. It’s still an opportunity to win a trophy.
“Putting yourself in finals is where you want to measure yourself as a player. It’s the highest pressure game you can play in and it’s a real test of you as a player and as a team. It’s definitely a big deal, irrelevant of how it’s portrayed and irrelevant of all the talk about what team France are putting out.”
Watson admits he is not sure if he will ever get over the World Cup Final defeat, unless he has the opportunity to put it right one day.
“It’s a final and there’s a trophy to be won at the end of it — and the previous final we didn’t win,” he said.
“It’s about going out there and getting used to these finals and putting our game-plan into force, which is something we felt we didn’t do in the last final. To be honest, I don’t think the lads will be short on motivation at all. We obviously lost to France in the Six Nations, which helps the motivation. We also lost the last final we played in.
“We haven’t focused directly on the tactics of the World Cup Final, more that we were favourites going into that game, that we didn’t do what we said we were going to do in the week. There were issues with the training week and stuff.
“They were minute, or things that we thought were minute that probably should have been spoken about that we didn’t speak about. It was probably just an edge, those one per centers in training.”
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