Jason Robinson says England must revive the spirit of Sir Clive Woodward’s mantra of T-CUP – “Thinking Correctly Under Pressure” – if they are to win the World Cup.
After the jittery opening victory over Tonga, England settled into the competition with a more composed seven-try win over the USA – despite a frantic start in which they conceded four penalties in the first 15 minutes.
Robinson, who was enticed by Woodward to switch from League to Union ahead of England’s World Cup triumph in 2003, says England must quickly adapt to the pressure of playing on the biggest stage if they are to regain the Webb-Ellis Cup.
Sterner tests await England after the bonus-point wins over the Eagles and Tonga, starting with Argentina in Tokyo on Saturday, and Robinson says he wants to see England show they can handle the heat.
“Pressure makes players do some silly things, makes us all do silly things,” said the former wing/full-back. “Some players can handle it, some players will show over the next few weeks that they can’t. There is such scrutiny and everything is magnified.
“I’ve been in three World Cups – one in League and two in Union – and I’ve been in three World Cup finals. I know what it’s like to win and I know what it’s like to lose, and it’s a very fine line.
“The key thing is to make sure that you have that composure and that you use the experience that you have within the team.
“Teams handle pressure by practising under pressure. It means that when the pressure comes on in a game you don’t feel it the same way. It’s only when you don’t practice under pressure that you think it’s a big deal when you come into an actual pressure situation.”
Robinson – the only Englishman to score a try in a World Cup final – believes New Zealand are still the best in the business at soaking up pressure, pointing to the All Blacks’ first half display against South Africa in Pool B as an object lesson in T-CUP.
“When you look at New Zealand, they’re able to absorb pressure and they are able to apply pressure,” he said.
“Sometimes it doesn’t go right for them but they don’t panic. You see other teams try and force things when they go behind, and they make it worse.”
To nullify the likes of New Zealand, Robinson believes Manu Tuilagi will be a potent asset for England.
Robinson worked with Eddie Jones’s squad before they flew out to Japan and says Tuilagi was the stand-out performer.
“I think that after all the injury frustration Manu’s had over the last 18 months, it’s now a case of him going out there to enjoy it and show us all what he can do,” said Robinson, now an ambassador for Rugby World Cup sponsor Mastercard.
“Manu is one of the key players for England in this assault on the World Cup.
“I’m so excited about him. He’s had his injuries, he’s been off for a long, long time. But he’s got a spring in his step now.”
Questions are being asked about what England’s starting backline should be against Argentina, and then against France a week later in Yokohama, particularly at fly-half.
But Robinson sees the questions as a boon rather than a burden.
“England have great strength in depth and combinations that they can use – should Farrell play at 10? Who should be in the back three?
“The great thing is, we’ve got options and in a World Cup you need options so that you can play in more than one way.”
In their quest for the perfect brew to enable them to achieve T-CUP, Robinson is also warning the England team not to run on too much emotion.
“Emotion can drive you, but sometimes you see people and their mind goes. They waste lots of emotional energy – energy which they’ll need in those games when they’re under pressure.
“Me, I was emotional. When the national anthem is playing at a World Cup, it doesn’t get any bigger. But if you don’t control that emotion it will destroy you.”