Updated: Monday, 10th December 2018 @ 4:16pm

New look England ready for Six Nations after northern preparation

New look England ready for Six Nations after northern preparation

By Jamie Dickenson

The England Rugby Squad concluded their week long training camp in the White Rose County with last Friday's open training session at the University of Leeds' Weetwood Sports Ground.

New coach Stuart Lancaster abandoned England's usual Six Nations warm-up base in Portugal in favour of the trip to Yorkshire, building towards today's Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland.

Lancaster decided his outfit needed fresh impetus, taking the squad north last week with identified targets in mind, primarily to repair the wounds England suffered during last autumn's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

High on the agenda for the RFU's interim head coach was re-connecting with the public, re-engaging with the media, training in conditions similar to Murrayfield and allowing the team to hear from respected figures outside the rugby world.

A number of these aims were satisfied as England trained at Weetwood in front of 2,500 engrossed spectators, composed from Yorkshire's schools, rugby clubs and students at the University of Leeds.

It was the first time that the RFU had permitted a training session open to the public away from headquarters in Twickenham, giving a much needed publicity boost to Rugby Union in the North.

This event was the pièce de résistance of a hard weeks work for the squad, who spent the majority of their time in North Leeds away from the media spotlight.

Assistant coach Graham Rowntree praised the facilities England utilised during their week in West Yorkshire, saying: “We have really enjoyed the whole week here. We stayed at the [Weetwood] hotel, training at West Park [rugby club], and using Leeds Rhino's gym at Kirkstall. It's been great.”

Motivational speakers were drafted in to emphasise the importance of national pride and reiterate the support behind the Red Rose cause, such as Rugby League veterans Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Peacock, former Mancunian Footballer Gary Neville and Iraq war hero Corporal Simon Brown.

Attempts to define a new culture for English rugby have been stark, with focus in the camp set on initiating a new wave of determination and professionalism within the group.

Chris Robshaw was announced as the new England captain on Monday despite having just one international cap to his name, although the decision reflects a new leaf being turned over for the national outfit.

No less than nine uncapped players were named in the overhauled squad, with Scarlets' Ben Morgan, Harlequins' Joe Marler and Jordan Turner-Hall, Wasps' Rob Webber, Saracens' Brad Barritt and Owen Farrell, and Northampton trio Phil Dowson, Lee Dickson and Calum Clark all receiving first time call-ups.

Calum Clark revealed his personal targets for the campaign, acclaiming the England set up and the training camp in Leeds, saying: “It's been a really good week, a great environment to be in, with this obviously being the first time I've been in it.”

“We're feeling really positive. We've made some good foundations and a good start to what we think is going to be a bright future.”

“I've got to get myself in the squad and then try and get myself a cap. This is all part of being a team, building team spirit and being successful going forward.”

“We're happy with where we are at as a squad. Ahead of the Six Nations we're sure that we're going to give a good account of ourselves.” 

Prop forward Alex Corbisiero spoke of the opportunity the Six Nations presents itself for this heavily revamped team, saying: “It’s a new start for English rugby and I think it all looks really promising.”

 “We’re a new squad really so there’s no hierarchy and no establishment. There’s so much talent and there’s such a competitive environment that it will just push us further.

“The way we’re working at the moment we’ve got to take it one step at a time. There’s a long-term goal going forward, but we need to take our time, get our performance right and work from week to week to get the best out of us.

“We want to establish ourselves as a team, going out there and playing a good brand of rugby and give everything we’ve got, do ourselves proud, and hopefully come out with a win [against Scotland].”

Two of the more experienced members of the squad, Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole, focused  their attentions on the suitability offered by Leeds for training ahead of the Six Nations campaign rather than the usual Portugal preparation base. 

Hartley said: “I’ve been out to Portugal on previous years and it’s really sunny and all very nice, but with this new team we want to set the standards early.” 

“It’s not about going somewhere nice or having that holiday feeling. It’s about coming to Leeds – a bit colder, a bit muddier – and perfect preparation for Murrayfield.”

Leicester scrummager Cole added: “It’s been different to Portugal and better to be honest. Portugal may sound glamorous but it’s a bit out of the way.” 

 “It’s nice to do stuff like this and do stuff with the guys, getting out and about. In Portugal you’re sort of hidden away and you never see anyone.”

England's Six Nations opener kicks off at Murrayfield this afternoon against Scotland, with the home side backed by many within the game to achieve their first victory over their southern neighbours since 2008.

Stuart Lancaster's side then travel to Rome to face Italy, before hosting World Cup semi-finalists Wales at Twickenham.

England's penultimate fixture is a tricky away tie against France, before tackling Brian O'Driscoll-less Ireland at home.

Expectations for the Red Rose in 2012's Six Nations are far from buoyant, but the side will be hoping to banish the ghosts from their disastrous World Cup campaign in the coming months.