England to show fighting spirit

Burnley and Pendle Citizen: Graham Rowntree says 'confidence is high' in the England camp Graham Rowntree says 'confidence is high' in the England camp

England are evoking memories of one of their finest hours to provide the inspiration needed to defy all odds and stun New Zealand at Eden Park on Saturday.

Eleven years ago Martin Johnson's World Cup winners in waiting completed only the nation's second victory on Kiwi soil by humbling the All Blacks 15-13.

Forwards coach Graham Rowntree was involved in that famous night in Wellington as England emerged triumphant despite playing nearly nine minutes of the second half with Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back in the sin-bin.

While Johnson led the game's undisputed number one team and went on to lift the World Cup four months later, the 2014 tourists have been given little hope of denying the All Blacks a 15th successive victory.

They enter the series opener without players from Aviva Premiership finalists Northampton and Saracens and combating a lengthy injury list numbering four Test British and Irish Lions.

Despite the obvious differences, Rowntree insists the 2003 success was founded on the same brand of indomitable spirit that will be necessary in Auckland this weekend.

"It's been referenced a lot that victory in Wellington. It was a special night and it's a case of having self-belief," he said.

"That's what it took that night - an incredible amount of self-belief.

"We all know how good this team we're playing are, but we've come here full of enthusiasm and self-belief.

"My over-riding reflection of that game 11 years ago was our self-belief and hanging in there. We just stuck in there.

"We were down to six men in a scrum on our own goalline in one period because we had Lawrence and Neil in the sin-bin - cheers for that.

"It's hard enough with a full deck of cards against the All Blacks, never mind being down to six.

"We were hanging on for dear life, but that's rugby. Digging in when you're facing adversity.

"That was a significant win for that group of players, who went on to win the World Cup.

"It was a stepping stone and that's what this is for this group of young players.

"Pitching yourself against the best at Eden Park - it doesn't get any better or harder than that."

England will be joined by players from Northampton and Saracens - who fought out a thrilling final clinched by Saints in the closing seconds of extra-time - on Wednesday.

The new arrivals will not be available until the second and third Tests, forcing an understrength team to man the barricades at a venue where the All Blacks have won every match for 20 years.

England's playing resources are being stretched, but Rowntree insists they are operating from a position of strength.

"The situation we're in is not ideal, but we've known about it for a significant length of time and we're getting on with it," he said.

"We have a good squad of keen young men here who have worked very well in the time we've had together. So we're looking forward to the weekend.

"Most of these have been part of a successful England squad for the last year or two.

"Our game has advanced a lot since the end of the autumn series. We wished we'd won the Six Nations, but the way we're playing means our confidence is high."

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