Best yet to come says England's Ollie Chessum
Ollie Chessum insists that while Saturday’s World Cup semi-final against South Africa leaves no margin for error, it is also “scary” how much England can improve.
Only England still possess an unbeaten record amongst the teams in the last four after they came through a tense encounter with dangerous Fiji to set-up a rematch of the 2019 final.
They face one of the great Springbok sides who are aiming to clinch successive world titles – an achievement only New Zealand have managed in the past – but Chessum believes the best is yet to come from Steve Borthwick’s men.
“It’s as simple as if you don’t turn up you haven’t got a shot – not against these big teams, teams in the semi-finals,” Chessum said.
“If you’re anything less than 100 per cent they’re going to walk all over you. For me I just know I’ve got a job to do and if I don’t do it I’m letting the team down.
“We know what is coming. There is an awareness of their ability, the threats that they pose.
“They play against top-class teams, they play against top players that will target them week-in, week-out and yet they are still able to do what they do. It’s our job to stop that.
“We are improving week-by-week as a group. We were in a strange place in the warm-up games in August.
“But we are starting to figure ourselves out and find our identity. We know what we bring as a team.
“The set-piece is a big part of England’s game and has been for years. And then working for each other.
“Steve has a thing of never stopping and that’s something we’re trying to do.
“We are growing as a team and I think that is a scary thing for any team. We are not the complete article yet but we are winning games.
“It’s been a real growing process and it’s not finished, but we feel like we’re more than capable of doing the job.”
Playing for a nation scarred by a history of racial division, the Springboks are driven by a powerful sense of purpose as revealed by their captain Siya Kolisi, who stated before the 2019 World Cup that “we represent something much bigger than we can imagine”.
England’s ‘why’ may be less profound, but for Chessum it is every bit as motivational heading into a match which South Africa are strong favourites to win.
“We’re doing it for ourselves. We owe it to each other. It has been a long campaign – June 12 was when the group started training. That’s a long time to be together,” Chessum said.
“We’ve seen what we’ve had to go through to get here, the hard work behind the scenes, the things that everyone does for us.
“We’re doing it for ourselves as a group, our families back home and we’re doing it for the country. We’re representing England and we take massive pride in doing that.
“The big motivating, rev-up factor for me is that I’m playing for England, I’m playing for my country at a World Cup, and we’re facing South Africa.
“Every time you’re playing for your country it shouldn’t be that hard to rev yourself up. You’ve got to rise to the challenge.”
Borthwick names his starting XV and bench at lunchtime on Thursday, with the duel between Marcus Smith and Freddie Steward at full-back the biggest talking point.