LONDON, Dec 1 (Reuters) - Clive Woodward always points to the 27-27 draw with New Zealand in 1997 as the moment England began their journey towards a 2003 World Cup triumph.
Current coach Stuart Lancaster will hope Saturday’s astonishing 38-21 victory over the world champions will prove a similar launch pad.
Woodward’s England suffered some hard times after that game - the “tour from hell” in 1998 and a Five Nations heartbreak and World Cup quarter-final exit in the 1999 World Cup leaving them reeling.
But that draw against the odds, followed by their famous “13-man” victory in Wellington in June 2003 when they beat the All Blacks with two backrow forwards in the sin-bin, eventually sent them to the World Cup knowing they could finally mix it with the best.
Under Lancaster’s stewardship England had lost four and drawn one of their five games against the southern hemisphere’s big three. Another defeat against the 12-1-on favourites on Saturday would have produced a winter of discontent before the Six Nations give him another shot at winning over the fans.
But Lancaster, his coaches and his players can now enjoy their Christmas and will not even be too concerned about going into Monday’s World Cup draw down among the second seeds after their record, and thoroughly deserved, success.
England’s starting team had only 206 caps to the near-800 of a New Zealand team being hailed this week as possibly the best ever to play the game, but the hosts were on top from the start.
Showing a ravenous appetite for the breakdown and, to the delight of the Twickenham faithful scarely able to believe their eyes, running the ball with hard lines and sharp passes, England were dominant.
They led 12-0 at the break after three penalties and a drop goal from Owen Farrell and, when the All Blacks brought it back to 15-14 early in the second half, instead of folding, England kicked on.
Free-running tries by Brad Barritt, Manu Tuilagi and Chris Ashton had the crowd in ecstasy and were an emphatic validation of Lancaster’s selection policy.
“There was a no fear mentality and sometimes it comes off,” he told reporters.
”To build the 15-0 lead was really pleasing and a really big part of the win then that that pride in the shirt is what got us across the line.
“That first passage of play showed our intensity - we forced the All Blacks into errors and not many sides do that.”
Lancaster has long made it clear that his policy is to build a team capable of winning the 2015 World Cup on home soil, even if he has to suffer some “development setbacks” along the way.
This victory has bought him all the time he needs to continue with the project.
“It’s a young team but we should be sat here in seven, eight or nine years with the same guys playing for us and we’ll be the ones with 700, 800 caps,” Lancaster said.
New Zealand had been seeking a 10th successive victory over England but their coach Steve Hansen said he had been taking nothing for granted.
“I said this week I though Stu and the guys were getting their game together,” he said after what was the All Blacks’ heaviest defeat in 13 years.
“I find it interesting that anyone is surprised. There is some talent in this team.” (Editing by John Mehaffey)