Maro Itoje has compared England’s position to that of boxer Chris Eubank as they prepare to face Wales in the Six Nations at Cardiff on Saturday.
The now retired Eubank cultivated an image as a boxer fans loved to hate, playing up to preconceptions about him by adopting an eccentric appearance and mannered style of speech.
Eubank, however, was also a highly effective force in the ring, with the Englishman winning world title at both middleweight and super-middleweight during the 1990s.
England, for history and politics, often find themselves cast in a similar role.
But England lock Itoje, a boxing fan, believes they should make that work to their advantage after watching a television documentary this week about the “tough as nails” Eubank.
“I think as an England team specifically one could argue that’s pretty similar to how a lot of other nations see us,” Itoje told reporters on Friday.
“If you are in that position it’s about relishing it, it’s about enjoying the challenge…being present in the moment and doing what you need to do.
“Rugby is a game similar to boxing in the sense that you can’t fake rugby, you can’t play at rugby.”
The British and Irish Lions second row added: “Rugby isn’t a game where you can win just on talent.
“We have seen many talented sides lose to lesser teams, because of one reason or another.
“You need to have that mentality, you need to have that fighting spirit.”
England coach Eddie Jones has labelled the third-round clash at the Principality Stadium a “make-or-break” fixture for his reigning Six Nations champions, who started their title defence with a shock 11-6 loss at home to Scotland before overpowering perennial strugglers Italy 41-18.
Defeat against a Wales side bidding for a Triple Crown after wins over Ireland and Scotland would all but end England’s title hopes.
“As a team, we are looking forward to it and we are ready to go,” Itoje said.
“This is the game where we need a result. Our ambition going into the Six Nations was to win it. For us to do that it means we have to win against Wales.”
One unusual aspect of Wales’ opening two matches this tournament is that both Ireland an Scotland had a player sent off.
French referee Pascal Gauzere, who will be in charge on Cardiff on Saturday, has dismissed more players than any other official in Test rugby union, having shown seven red cards.
And with referees being urged to take a stern line against players responsible for head injuries, Itoje knows discipline will be key to England’s chances of victory.
“It goes without saying that we don’t want to be playing the game with 14, 13 men,” he said.
“If you do that you just put one arm behind your back whilst you are going out there and that’s a position we don’t want to be in.
“As a team we need to do our best to remain the right side of the referee.”
© Agence France-Presse