Embracing 'favourites' pressure can take England to next level: Woodward

·2-min read
New Zealand v France - IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Quarter Final

(Reuters) - England have crumbled under the pressure of defending their Six Nations title and if they are to develop into a world-class rugby side they must learn to embrace the tag of favourites, former coach Clive Woodward has said.

England stormed to the Six Nations title last year but have suffered shock defeats in two of their three matches this time around, to Scotland and Wales.

Woodward pointed to how Eddie Jones' side famously upset New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup having lost 15 of their previous 16 clashes with the All-Blacks, and said they needed to produce such performances against weaker opposition.

"World class teams must not only be comfortable as favourites, they must thrive on it," Woodward, who guided England to victory in the 2003 World Cup, wrote in his column for the Daily Mail.

"They take their performance to another level when the pressure is on. What England must do is learn to flourish as favourites.

"England, with all their resources and talent, can only be underdogs for short periods of time. Claiming fantastic wins as the favourites, that is the real art to becoming the best in the world."

Woodward, 65, said England should take lessons from the likes of seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton and tennis' "Big Three" of Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic on how to play with a target on their back.

"For all of these sporting giants, being the favourite is a huge weapon," he wrote.

"Being the underdog ... can be highly motivating but it's a card you can only play occasionally in a career."

One of those occasions will come on Saturday when England host France at Twickenham, with Fabien Galthie's side installed as favourites, according to Woodward.

"This is a match France will think they should win. To lose would be a disappointment," he added.

(Reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by Himani Sarkar)