Can England emulate 2003 triumph on home soil at Rugby World Cup?
England have home advantage as host nation of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and playing in front of their own fans cannot be underestimated. Coral make Stuart Lancaster’s side 7/2 second-favourites to go all the way.
Over two million tickets have already been sold for this tournament, and 650k applications received for the England v Australia game that is likely to decide who wins Pool A. Rugby fever is sweeping the nation in like fashion to the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Victorious at the 2003 edition Down Under, a dozen years have slipped by without England replicating their memorable success when Jonny Wilkinson kicked 113 points en route to securing the Webb Ellis trophy.
Under Lancaster there have been signs of progress. England came close to wrestling the Six Nations title back from Ireland, but like Wales were beaten on points difference. Everyone in the set-up will be keen to avoid a similar so-nearly story at the World Cup.
A double header against Auld Enemy and another Six Nations rival, France, kicks off England’s preparations for hosting duties, as the best rugby sides from the globe could to where the game was invented.
Lancaster has made several cuts to his roster prior to the World Cup warm-ups, with winger Chris Ashton and centre Kyle Eastmond headlining those who have dropped out of contention, despite the latter being involved in the kit launch.
Options out wide for England have been further reduced by the axing of Marland Yarde and Semesa Rokoduguni. Also set to miss the World Cup are scrum half Lee Dickson, prop Matt Mullan and flanker Matt Kvesic.
Regular captain Chris Robshaw is definitely out of the first France fixture on August 15th, so Lancaster has named Northampton’s Tom Wood as skipper in his stead. Also included in the XV are Henry Slade and rugby league crossover Sam Burgess at inside centre, who both their international union bows.
Those set to turn out at Twickenham for the first time in this match will read emblazoned words ‘Hundreds before you, thousands around you, millions behind you’ in the tunnel.
Intense pressure that comes with the territory of being a host nation can go one of two ways; it can galvanise to greatness as the London Olympics did for British track and field athletes, or can boil over and break sportsmen and women like Brazil’s 7-1 mauling by Germany in the football World Cup semi-finals of 2014.
Lancaster knows that Pool A is one of the toughest groups England could have at the tournament, with the Aussies joining fellow Six Nations side Wales and Pacific Nations cup winners Fiji in all aiming to reach the knockout phase.
Australia made recent history by beating Rugby World Cup favourites New Zealand for the first time since 2011, just their third win in 24 attempts. Such great strides being made by one of England’s rivals ensures Pool A will be nerve-racking for supporters.
Should Lancaster’s side come through such tests as expected, though, as Coral make them 6/5 favourites to finish top of their group, they will likely have to beat the All Blacks to win a second Rugby World Cup. England have all the attributes to do this, but it will be tough.
New Zealand have just lost to their neighbours and South Africa recently, but Lancaster will have noted glimmers of weakness in those defeats. The All Blacks could be better at set pieces and may be lacking a little bit of quality in midfield. England will have to exploit areas like this to ensure the Rugby World Cup comes home.