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Mental edge defines champs - Lewsey

Josh Lewsey believes that "mental edge" is a key requirement for teams to thrive in the rarefied atmosphere of a Rugby World Cup campaign.

Lewsey helped England achieve World Cup glory 12 years ago, lining up at full-back as Martin Johnson's men broke Australian hearts through a Jonny Wilkinson drop-goal during the dying seconds of extra time that sealed a dramatic win in Sydney.

The Webb Ellis Cup was again in Lewsey's sights on Monday as he attended a 2015 World Cup Trophy Tour event at Newport High School in south Wales.

And asked to identify the quality that underpinned England's world title charge in 2003, he said: "Mental edge. We had it, and that is the one thing that defines champions.

"There is no difference in how strong they (teams) are or skill-wise, but on the biggest stage when it matters most, big-match players deliver.

"When you get to a global stage it can be quite intimidating, so that's why mental edge is the one quality that distinguishes winners and good players from champions."

Lewsey, the Welsh Rugby Union's head of rugby, will find himself in an interesting position - to say the least - when Wales meet England at Twickenham on September 26.

It promises to be a pivotal encounter for both countries, especially given the presence of twice-World Cup winners Australia in their qualifying pool, and Lewsey - whose mother hails from the Swansea Valley - was a master of diplomacy when posed an inevitable question about who might come out on top.

"When I walked over here today, I though if there is one question I am going to sidestep it's that one!" he added.

"Everyone asks me who is going to win the pool stages, who is going to win the tournament. The honest answer is nobody knows, and that's the beauty of this sport.

"That is the beauty of a group where you've got three top international sides in England, Wales and Australia, and let's not forget Fiji as well.

"I think it could come down to points difference and which team is going to turn up on the day. But the fact that we are even talking about it, and it's such a dilemma, makes for a great sporting spectacle."

Recalling his memories of 12 years ago, Lewsey said: "While rugby is a game of tactics and skill, it's also a game of emotions.

"There are a whole lot of people that had been on a journey together in the lead-up to 2003.

"For my mind, the most special moment wasn't necessarily during the final, it was the personal stuff afterwards, having realised what we had done.

"And what was lovely from a UK perspective - with the Ashes guys going on to win in 2005 - is that it lifted everyone and just gave everyone that self-belief that we can compete with the best in the world.

"You have got to have that belief if you are going to win tournaments and win trophies, and let's hope a northern hemisphere team does it again this year.

"Historically, the southern hemisphere have clearly led the way. The way the draw has worked it's likely at least one northern-hemisphere team will get to the final, but we shall see. There are some proper teams there, and it makes for a fantastic occasion."

Lewsey attended Newport High School as the Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour ended its journey around Wales before heading to Cornwall and the next stage of its nationwide expedition.

Lewsey was joined by male and female rugby-playing pupils from the school, in addition to former Wales stars Martyn Williams, Robert Sidoli and Ian Gough.

"This kind of event just gives people a taster and an appetite for how big the Rugby World Cup will be," he added. "I think it will be a fantastic tournament for these shores.

"The work that is being done to promote the tournament is great, and also it is advocating some of the values of the game, which is what makes our game special."


From Belfast Telegraph