Chris Robshaw believes England’s resilience during a gruelling autumn has proved they possess the mettle to survive the pressure-cooker environment of a home World Cup.
A 26-17 victory over Australia on Saturday salvaged respectability from an otherwise disappointing QBE Series characterised by stagnation with the countdown to next year’s global showpiece now spanning only eight games.
Comprehensive defeats by New Zealand and South Africa on the opening two weekends extended their losing run to five Tests, placing the squad under a cloud that has only been partially lifted with success against Samoa and Australia.
Toppling the Wallabies, who alongside Wales are group rivals at the World Cup, was imperative to stem the flow of criticism and England’s forward power and set-piece dominance delivered an autumn-saving victory.
“Relief” was Robshaw’s reaction to the result and while the captain applauds the tenacity of his team-mates, he knows standards must improve if the hosts are to be a force at their own tournament.
“The pressure hasn’t been a bad thing, it’s just great to see how we have responded to it,” said Robshaw, who was outstanding against Australia. “Now we know that if it happens again the guys aren’t going to crumble, they are going to stand up to it. They’re going to find ways of winning.
“We all know we didn’t start well – for whatever reason, we’re not quite sure – but beating Australia was a great way to finish the series and that will give us confidence going into the Six Nations. If we had lost and looked back over this series having lost three out of four it would have been tough to take, especially with what’s happening next year.”
Traditional strengths were enlisted to dispatch the Wallabies, who were pulverised at the scrum and throttled out of contention by the tight five, yet were immeasurably brighter in attack.
Centres Matt Toomua and Adam Ashley-Cooper were magnificent, highlighting the limitations of England’s midfield of Billy Twelvetrees and Brad Barritt with their intelligent and incisive play.
The Twelvetrees-Barritt axis is the third partnership in four games and while the rise of George Ford at fly-half is exciting and the emergence of wings Jonny May and Anthony Watson encouraging, the ongoing chaos at 12 and 13 is deeply worrying for the English.
Former Australia captain David Pocock has been issued with a formal written warning by the Australian Rugby Union after he was arrested on Sunday.
Pocock, 26, was arrested during a coal mine protest in north-west New South Wales, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The paper said that Pocock was among around 30 protesters who joined a blockade at the Maules Creek mine, chaining himself to machinery.
Flanker Pocock, who is currently injured and has not played for Australia since undergoing knee reconstruction surgery in March, is due to appear in Narrabri Local Court on January 14.
The Morning Herald said Pocock was among seven people arrested and charged with offences including entering enclosed land without a lawful excuse.
In a statement, the ARU said: "The Australian Rugby Union has issued a formal written warning to David Pocock following his arrest yesterday.
"While we appreciate David has personal views on a range of matters, we've made it clear that we expect his priority to be ensuring he can fulfil his role as a high-performance athlete.
"The matter is now subject to legal proceedings, and we will now let the legal process take its course."
It was not pretty, and it was by no means comfortable but Wales’ defeat of South Africa could be the catalyst they need to fulfil their undoubted potential.
Having secured a southern hemisphere scalp just once in Warren Gatland’s seven-year reign prior to yesterday evidence of a mental block had been mounting.
Yet that theory has been banished emphatically and heading into a huge year, Wales and Gatland need to build on this victory.
Indeed, it could prove to be the result that turns them from World Cup also-rans into genuine contenders.
No longer will this group of players, so often on the receiving end of morale-sapping defeats against SANZAR nations, feel inferior when stepping onto the pitch with the best of the world.
Gatland is still able to call on the core of the side that impressed so unexpectedly at the last World Cup, but it is no secret that they had failed to kick on as had been hoped.
This result gives them belief that they can beat any side on the planet.
Admittedly, it was not a performance that will live long in the memory, and the win owed as much to mistakes made by the Springboks at the end of a long season. But Wales got over the line for once, and that will have only a positive impact on squad and supporter confidence.
The positive momentum now needs to be harnessed by Gatland so that his side head into the Six Nations ready to lay down a marker for the World Cup.
And while there was evidence of the nerves and mental fragility that cost them so dear in the latter stages against the Wallabies and New Zealand, there is plenty to build on.
Not least in defence, where the men in red swarmed all over the Springboks. Captain Sam Warburton, the evergreen Gethin Jenkins and Biggar were all exemplary in this regard, while Wales’ sheer size in all areas makes them a formidable foe.
Ospreys fly-half, Biggar, has grown into the famous No10 shirt, and although he is not in the same mould as some of the greats that have worn it before him, there is no longer any doubt he is the preferred playmaking option. His combination play with Rhys Webb, a quicker scrum-half than predecessor Mike Phillips, looks made for the biggest stage and helps Wales stay on the front foot.
Remember, too, that this was a result secured without the hulking presence of George North, and with his replacement, Liam Williams, one of the standout performers.
Williams has been the revelation of what now has to be seen as a satisfactory autumn campaign, his unorthodox gait providing some surprising pace.
It means that Wales now have competition for all back three slots, an ideal position to be in when competing for silverware.
Were North, or even Leigh Halfpenny, to suffer injury on the eve of the World Cup there would not be the same panic in the Valleys as before.
That can only be positive as Gatland plots to find a formula to beat both Australia and England at Twickenham in pool play next year.
South Africa were visibly tired, Willie Le Roux’s uncharacteristic mistakes highlighted as much, but Wales closed out the win, and in doing so have taken a huge stride forward.
The game will not be pressed onto a commemorative DVD, however, winning is infectious and it could end up playing a huge role in how Wales fare next autumn.