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Leonard hails Twickenham influence

Jason Leonard believes the Twickenham factor will be huge for England when they enter the white-hot environment of a World Cup on home soil.

If England reach the World Cup final on October 31, then Twickenham will have hosted six of their seven games, with the solitary exception being an Etihad Stadium pool clash against minnows Uruguay.

Stuart Lancaster's men will currently not be looking beyond a demanding group that also includes Wales, Australia and Fiji, with only two teams securing quarter-final status.

And England 2003 World Cup winner Leonard, who is now serving as Rugby Football Union president, believes the home fires could take some extinguishing.

"I think the England team is looking pretty good, particularly with the strength in depth we have now," Leonard told Press Association Sport.

"We are in a healthy position with the World Cup just around the corner.

"We have shown that we can take on the best on our day.

"If all goes well, all of our games should be at Twickenham, apart from the one against Uruguay in Manchester, which will be fantastic going on the road.

"The home crowd will be very vocal getting behind the team, and they (England) will be very hard to beat.

"I think it is a big deal playing at Twickenham, and I think England's best performances have been when the crowd is participating as well, and I expect that to be exactly the same in this World Cup."

Apart from England performing on the global stage in September and October, Leonard has no doubt that a strong World Cup legacy is right at the top of the tournament's agenda.

"The biggest thing about having a World Cup here is what we leave behind," he added.

"It's our legacy, it's the success of a Rugby World Cup, and this will be the biggest and best World Cup so far.

"I think we will see a massive up-swing in participation from boys, girls, young and old, and at all levels.

"The game of rugby is a game of inclusion, not exclusion, and the most important thing is that the future benefits."

Leonard welcomed the World Cup Trophy Tour to England on Tuesday as the countdown continued towards September's tournament kick-off.

With 73 days to go before England open the World Cup against Fiji at Twickenham, Leonard led the Webb Ellis Cup on its journey to the Isles of Scilly, before arriving at Cornwall's Eden Project and then overseeing a beach rugby event on Perranporth Beach.

Leonard's first port of call was Five Islands School on the Isles of Scilly, where he joined the Cornish Pirates for a rugby training session, which was followed by a short helicopter trip to the Eden Project, where local schoolchildren had an opportunity to have their picture taken with the trophy inside one of the biodomes.

"This year will be the most significant in the history of the game in England," Leonard said.

"And it's an exciting opportunity for us to raise the profile of rugby through the trophy tour, in particular among grassroots clubs across the country.

"Three of the schools at the beach rugby event are part of the RFU's All Schools Programme, which takes rugby into non rugby-playing secondary schools.

"These three schools didn't play rugby until two years ago, and they are great examples of the work we are doing to create a lasting legacy for generations to come."


From Belfast Telegraph