England rugby not yet back to their best, says Gregan

Former Australia national captain George Greganbelieves that England need to keep the momentum going after their Six Nations win.
Former Australia national captain George Greganbelieves that England need to keep the momentum going after their Six Nations win.

Roundly jeered on their home turf, the England national team were in the doldrums after an abject Rugby World Cup last November, failing to advance beyond the group stage.

Since then, however, they have enjoyed a sharp upturn in form under new coach Eddie Jones, and achieved a coveted Grand Slam in the recent Six Nations Championships, beating Ireland, Scotland, France, Wales and Italy.

While this has sparked talk that they could be among rugby's elite again very soon, one of their greatest adversaries - former Australia national captain George Gregan - has insisted that it is still early days to label the Red Roses as genuine world competitors.

The 42-year-old, who was in town for last weekend's HSBC Singapore Sevens as a HSBC ambassador, said: "They are improving, that's for sure. I don't mean to downgrade the Six Nations, but all four semi-finalists in the World Cup last year - South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina - belonged to the southern hemisphere."

Gregan believes that the upcoming three-Test series in June, against his native Australia, will represent the perfect opportunity for England to make a statement.

He said: "When you improve, you want to test yourself and play against better teams and see where you're at. I think this tour will bring the best out of this England team, to see where they're truly at."

He also credited his countryman Jones as a key reason for England's quick turnaround.

Jones, who was in charge of the Japan team who shocked South Africa at last year's World Cup, took over the reins from Stuart Lancaster when the latter resigned after England's poor tournament.

Said Gregan, who was coached by Jones during his time with the Wallabies, said: "He knows how to get players in the best possible condition physically and mentally, to compete at a consistent level.

"He's a very special coach, he knows how to win, identifies talent and brings on young players."

He picked out young lock Maro Itoje, who made his full England debut in the Six Nations match against Ireland, as one player who has benefited from Jones' willingness to give his young charges a chance to shine.

Gregan, who owns a coffee-shop business (GG's Espresso), added: "As a player you want to improve, but it's up to the coaches to give you the tools and environment to get better, and (Jones) is one of these coaches."

Though he acknowledges that England, with their new coach and up-and-coming players, are on the right track, Gregan believes they have to keep the momentum going after their Six Nations win.

He said: "Australia were in the final of the World Cup, but that was in November, it's a long time ago. You can't say for sure who is the No. 2 team in the world right now, after New Zealand.

"What you love about a very good team like New Zealand is that they'll play any game at the highest level.

"But if they're a bit off… all of a sudden you have a contest. That's the beauty of sport. England can't afford to rest on their laurels."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2016, with the headline 'England rugby not yet back to their best, says Gregan'. Print Edition | Subscribe