By Neale Harvey
Jason Leonard has challenged England to prove their World Cup credentials by creating Six Nations history, beating New Zealand and compiling a long unbeaten run to match that of the all-conquering side he played in 14 years ago.
Leonard believes Eddie Jones’ team possess the strength-in-depth to beat all-comers between now and 2019. However, he insists they must ram home that potential by nailing down two further Six Nations titles before Japan.
Front row great Leonard told The Rugby Paper: “England are pretty much where Eddie Jones wants them to be. They had a great run of wins and while everybody was disappointed with the Ireland result, the Irish had beaten New Zealand.
“That unbeaten run under Eddie was 17 games, which is a similar amount to what they’re facing between now and the World Cup, so they’ve got to do the same thing again to prove they can be there or thereabouts in Japan.
“No team has won three consecutive Six Nations titles so that’s added pressure, but Eddie’s been getting the best out of these players and if you look at the Argentina trip, there’s a few other good kids come through there as well.
“I reckon we’re in a really good place, we’ve just got to spend time together now, finessing over this next period of time up to the World Cup. England can obviously take on the best in the world, it’s now about beating them consistently.”
Leonard added: “In 2003 that’s where we were, where for 18 months we hadn’t lost a game against the All Blacks, Australia and South Africa and were dominant in the Six Nations.
“We lost one game to France by a point in a World Cup warm-up when we put out a second team but still could have won, so if they can keep along those lines they’ll do well because the strength-in-depth England have is ridiculous.”
Meanwhile, Leonard expects many current England players to join him in the recently created Rugby Centurions club, which currently includes 53 Test legends and has been launched to raise funds to boost global rugby projects.
Dylan Hartley (86 caps), James Haskell (75), Dan Cole (74), Danny Care (73) and Ben Youngs (70) are within sight of the hallowed ton, with Leonard (114 matches) adding: “It’s taken a while but I’m confident some boys will get there.
“On average teams are playing 10-12 games a year so it adds up pretty quickly and while some people say it’s a lot easier to get to 100 matches now, you’ve got to stay fit and get picked so it will still be a huge achievement.”
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