Rugby World Cup Pedigree
England’s record at the World Cup is very strong. They have never suffered a major defeat, though they were run close in 2003 by Samoa and Tonga in 2007. When it comes to the knock out stages however, there have been two quarter final defeats against South Africa in 1999 and Wales in 1987, a semi final loss against New Zealand in 1995, and three final appearances, losing once to Australia in 1991, once to South Africa in 2007, but winning the big one against Australia in Sydney in 2003.
Best Rugby World Cup moment
English rugby’s greatest moment came with Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal in 2003, the three points edging England ahead against Australia with minutes left on the clock in extra time. It made heroes of the squad, and earned coach Clive Woodward a knighthood. It has become the benchmark for success in English rugby, and is a moment that they are yet to match.
Biggest Rugby World Cup win: England 111 – 13 Uruguay. Brisbane, Australia. 2nd November 2003
Biggest Rugby World Cup defeat: England 0 – 36 South Africa. Paris, France. 14th September 2007
Key player: Jonny Wilkinson
Mike Catt last week stated that Wilkinson was “put onto this planet to win World Cups”. Melodramatic perhaps, but Wilkinson’s actions in 2003 and his controlling influence during the campaign in 2007 helped steer the England team through both good times and bad times. 2011 will be his last World Cup, having also previously played in 1999, and he will want to leave yet another mark on the tournament’s history. His calming influence, along with his excellent passing and kicking game, make him essential.
One to watch: Manu Tuilagi
From club squad member to potential England starter, Manu Tuilagi has undergone an incredible journey this season with Leicester Tigers and now the national side. There have been great tries and huge hits in defence, with a high profile suspension in between, and Tuilagi’s performances in the recent warm up matches, including two tries for England in two games, mean he has to be picked. Provided with enough good ball, he will shine.
Rugby World Cup Fixtures:
10th Sept 09:30 BST: vs Argentina in Dunedin
18th Sept 07:00 BST: vs Georgia in Dunedin
24th Sept 07:00 BST: vs Romania in Dunedin
1st Oct 08:30 BST: vs Scotland in Auckland
A tough call between the match against Argentina or the match against Scotland, but the last match between England and their fiercest rivals north of the border is more important because of how it will affect the knock out stage. Both England and Scotland know that they could be playing to face France, or if they lose, the hosts New Zealand. Neither side will want to face the All Blacks until the final if necessary, meaning that this is a must win match.
Odds: 16/1 to win the tournament.
England coach Martin Johnson says:
“World Cups are about pressure, dealing with it off the field, dealing with it on the field when you get into close games. Finding a way to win is what World Cups are about. If you talk about style, it is the team that can battle back and find a way to win a close game.””
England captain Lewis Moody says:
“Someone asked me last week if I was excited about the World Cup and I genuinely haven’t been excited about it yet because there such a frustration from that loss against Wales. Our focus was so much on Ireland and winning and putting everything into that. I am genuinely now excited about going to the World Cup.”
England managed to make the final in 2007 despite being torn apart by South Africa in the pool stages. This time round they are better prepared, with a stronger squad, especially in the pack. The big problem is whether they can make it happen in the backs, and going into a World Cup with a brand new centre combination of Mike Tindall and Manu Tuilagi screams of panic.
England could make the semi finals against Australia if they defeat France in the quarter finals, but unfortunately this time, that will be as far as they go. Australia are a complete side peaking at the right time, with the Tri-Nations title to prove it. In a shoot out between those two sides, right now there is only one winner. Semi Finals.
By Ben Coles
Photo: Onside Images / Patrick Khachfe www.onsideimages.com