Rob Andrew has insisted there is still time for battered world champions England to get their campaign for a successful title defense back on track and that it is 2007 favorites New Zealand who will be under the greatest pressure when the teams meet at Twickenham today.
Defeat this weekend would be England's sixth in a row, their worst in 34 years and with injuries having blighted coach Andy Robinson's team selection, the chances of the hosts upsetting the world No. 1 All Blacks look slim.
But Andrew, once a strong critic of the Red Rose coaching set-up but now on the inside as the Rugby Football Union's director of elite rugby has tried to turn the tables in a style befitting a former England fly-half.
"I believe it's possible to retrieve the ground we've lost since the World Cup. We can only really judge our progress by the end of the Six Nations," Andrew told reporters. "We should not get too carried away by Sunday. But it is a massive, massive one-off game which couldn't possibly be any bigger."
"Let's not forget England are world champions and are playing a team who feel they are the pretenders to that title. New Zealand are under enormous pressure," he added.
"They see this as a road test for the World Cup. They have been the outstanding side for the last two years. There's enormous expectation on the All Blacks and they have to deal with that pressure," Andrew said. "They are under more pressure than us. We know we have to improve but also know we have the talent. A little bit of luck injury-wise would help too."
Despite receiving a fair amount of ball from their pack, England's backs have squandered numerous try-scoring opportunities in recent games.
Andrew, who himself played behind a powerful England pack, wants a sharper cutting edge added to the traditional graft up front, saying it was time for the players to up their game.
"We want to see all the qualities that we expect from an England side in terms of set-piece and winning the ball," he said. "From an attacking point of view we want to see more threat variation, in many different ways."
"We want to see the players taking responsibility in this. We want to see them make some decisions. The ball is back in their court a little bit because they are talented guys," he added.
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