The world champions’ disastrous descent down the IRB rankings table since 2003 has been well-documented, but there is no escaping the fact that England have been the worst World Champions ever.
That is not to say they didn’t deserve to lift the Web Ellis Cup, just that several factors – such as leaders retiring, injuries to key players, club v country crises, hopeless management decisions and a short-sighted governing body – have led to their downfall ever since.
Brian Ashton, the head coach, has been in place for less than a year and for one reason or another, team selection has been erratic and we end up going into a World Cup not really knowing what the starting line-up will look like – a far cry from 2003.
However, all of these things will not stop us hoping. Maybe, just maybe it will all come together at the last minute. Phil Vickery, the captain, Lawrence Dallaglio, Jonny Wilkinson, Mike Catt and Josh Lewsey should form the backbone of the team, and all were present on that glorious night in Sydney.
Perhaps newcomers like Danny Hipkiss and Tom Rees can provide the spark to ignite England into a fearsome attacking force once again, and maybe if giants like Andrew Sheridan and Simon Shaw keep the pack on the front foot, we will se the team going forwards.
England face a crucial group-stage showdown with South Africa on September 13th, but the Springboks appear to be streets ahead in terms of quality. Samoa will also provide a gruelling test, but England must surely be able to beat the Pacific Island minnows. Wales or Australia will be waiting in the quarter-finals, and both are beatable, but only if England raise their game another level. If they get to the semis, then who knows? Anything can happen!
However, England just don’t seem ready. As one of the Sunday papers noted, it’s not like the World Cup is a surprise. England have had four years to prepare, but that time has been frittered away, and now we must follow their campaign more in hope than expectation.