World Cup Preview: England

Group B Opposition: Argentina, Scotland, Georgia and Romania

Pedigree: Plenty of it.  Indeed, England are the great World Cup overachievers.  Nobody is better than they at gritting their teeth and finding a way to the final, no matter how awfully they are playing.  The memory is hazy, but I believe they won the cup in 2003.

Player to watch: Much depends on whippersnapper scrum half Ben Youngs.  He was dynamite in the autumn against Australia, when he set the tempo and unleashed the English backs at speed.  But two shockers in the Palindrome in the spring have raised questions about his ability to play on the back foot.  He is coming in to the World Cup on the back of injury and a delayed preseason.  Can he get his spark back? If Johnno gives Manu Tuilagi a run-out in August and he seizes his chance, England’s atttacking play could be transformed. The young lad isn’t quite yet the successor to Bod, but he is dynamic and exciting – just ask Barnesy.

Good Tournament: England expects and all that.  They will be looking to make the final, though a semi-final would be a pass mark for a young side.

Bad Tournament: If they bow out in the quarters or before, it will be considered a disappointing showing.

Prospects: This is a more talented, and better coached, squad than the one which somehow turned themselves around and made the 2007 final.  Looking through the side, there are plenty of reasons for the rose-clad chariot swingers to be cheerful.  Any England tight five will always be dogged and resilient, and the return of Matt Stevens augments an already strong front row.  Much (too much?) is expected of Courtney Lawes, and the backrow will be nicely balanced, with Lewis Moody and Nick Easter accompanied by one of the Toms Croft and Wood.

At half-back they’ve the youthful vigour of Youngs and Flood and outside them they’ve running threats in Chris Ashton (a contender for the top tryscorer of the tournament) and high-class full-back Ben Foden.

It’s a young side, and they have the look of a team enjoying themselves.  They’re playing a more attractive brand of rugby than has been seen from an English side in who knows how long, and they are the Six Nations champions.  But, as always with England, this leads to over-confidence.  In the spring, following wins against Wales and Italy, we had an explosion of media hyperbole.  England were primed to win the World Cup! They had destroyed the twin powers of Wales and Italy!  Swing Low! Expectations were checked after the defeat in Dublin, but we all know that once England get off to a winning start against Argentina, the media hubbub will begin again.
Besides the hype, there is also the material weakness in midfield.  Shontayne Hape has yet to show he is an international 12, and Mike Tindall will always be Mike Tindall, even if he spends his pre-season becoming Mr Ugly Royal Bird. What a pity Matthew Tait and Olly Barkley have been so poorly treated.  But if Johnson takes a risk, and gives Manu Tuilagi a chance to wreak havoc, things could get interesting.
Verdict: Should have enough to top the group, and they usually have France’s number, so a semi-final is very achievable.  Probably a top midfield away from being a finalist.

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10 Comments

  1. Personally I don’t think that England have the back row, half backs or centres to win the tournament, also I feel that there are question marks over the locks they have at their disposal. Their saving grace is that the draw could not have been kinder! If they win the group they should face two teams they have the Indian sign over: France and Australia. However I think that the Argentines could be really targeting the meeting with England in the first game, as they did France 4 years ago. I think the Argentines have the pack to disrupt England’s attacking game and put Youngs and Flood on the back foot. Although the questions remain regarding if they have the backline to put those opportunities away.

  2. Nice analysis. As a massive England fan my heart says we make the final. However, being a realist, I think if we make it there this time around then we have over achieved. I really hate the way the English media pile the pressure on after we have won a few games, it's thoroughly annoying and sets us up for a fall.The half backs are a concern, but for me are a concern only if the back row don't step up and give Youngs a better ride. Putting pressure on Youngs forces Flood to make every play as Hape is a useless distributor outside him. I'm perfectly happy with Youngs and Flood, but the back row and the 12 (hoping for a fit and in form Flutey -been missing since 2009 Lions) have to step up and this could be our undoing. Really hope we ditch one of Hape or Tindall in search of a little more adventure.Predicition: Semis.

  3. @JSRF – you don't rate England much then?! Their backrow may not look as glamorous as, say, Ireland's, but it's a solid unit. Tom Wood is a very fine 6, and Moody is a great harrying, annoying player. Easter is not cut in the mould of the great, athletic modern 8's (Jamie, Sergio, Read) but he is a big strong lad with decent hands. Croft may be overhyped, but he is still a valuable player.No doubt about it, the draw has worked out for them, and they will fancy that they can take France and Australia. I expect the Australia game might be a step too far. Argentina will make life awkward, but without pre-empting Egg Chaser's preview too much, I don't see how they can score the 20-25 points they'll need to beat England.

  4. @Rugby Spectator. Great to have comment from across the water on this one. I think everyone, no matter what colour shirt they will be wearing in the stands, wants to see Manu Tuilagi bring his own brand of havoc to the tournament. He's starting on saturday, it'll be fascinating to see if he can take his chance.Incidentally, what did you make of Wurzel being cut? I wasn't entirely surprised, but would have thought there might be room in the squad for an all-tackling soft-ground-loving destructive flanker?

  5. I wouldn't say I don’t rate England at all but I think that they have severe weaknesses which have been exposed a number of times in the past year by Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand and to a lesser extent Scotland. I think their back row is very workmanlike. I wouldn't agree on Moody he spends most of his time running around like a headless chicken before making one big play and (usually!) injuring himself in the process. For me he is the English equivalent of Chabal. Easter does have good hands but I think he is very immobile and would struggle to make any other top 10 side. Despite his nationality I am surprised that Waldrom hasn't made the final 40 for the English. Wood and Croft are useful players but I can not see them making a massive impact on the game except perhaps in the line out. Would they be able to really take a game but the scruff of the neck a la Elsom (2009 version), SOB, Kaino , Juan Smith etc? Foden and Aston are very dangerous off any type of possession but given Youngs and Floods flakiness and the probably selection of Hape and Tindall will England present enough in attack to trouble most teams?

  6. Their strength is clearly their tight five along with the infusion of more creative players to whom they have given a chance, thereby changing the atmosphere around them a lot – Youngs, Flood, Ashton, Foden and possibly soon Tuilagi. Its a good set piece and the interplay with Flood, Ashton and Foden includes some of the most intelligent lines of running you will see.However…I'm more inclined to agree with JSRF that their back 3 is decidedly workmanlike, only Croft could be described as having the potential to play above that. Fernandez Lobbe et al and a useful Scottish backrow will give them a lot of problems. A question remains (which may be unfair) over how well Lawes, Youngs and Flood play when things aren't going that well too. I'd expect both those teams to be in the hunt in the pool games against England, particularly Argentina. In this group it is plausible they could all beat each other, so one defeat could be enough to see you home.You would still have to back them to get out of the group. If its les bleus, I reckon France will be very focused on England (2nd string against NZ) and the frogs will banish some bad memories of this fixture in my opinion. If its NZ they are unlikely to get by it, although I have to admit the funny thing is that England are one of the only teams who I can stretch my imagination to see being able to beat the all blacks, via one big physical performance and that kind of confidence which is almost arrogance (without being arrogant) which England rugby teams tend to do very well .Prediction though is 1/4 final and by the way "Mr royal ugly bird" – LOL!

  7. I have just skimmed through that again and noticed the bit about workmanlike back row looks like blatant plagiarism of JSRF but it hadn't been posted when I started to type my blog.Palla Ovale – I actually do like Worsley myself but he is unfortunate in that he is more of a stop the other team play type of player rather than being a threat himself – and England have a bit of a hierarchy in that department (Wood and Mad eye Moody). One is their next big thing, the other is captain.Would also like to question the idea that England have that favourable a draw. They have two potential banana skins, then it is likely to be France, Australia, NZ as a pathway to the cup, or the alternative is to meet NZ in the quarters. You could argue that is a fair bit tougher than Ireland, who can arguably/probably focus on one game against South Africa as a route to the semis. Admittedly perhaps I'm being a bit too kind to Scotland in that analysis, who I do rate despite their recent results (by recent I mean 10/11 year history of).

  8. Interesting that there are some worries about the pool – I think Argentina would have taken the England of 18 months ago, but you would imagine England will have the backs to get the job done. It depends on Youngs for sure – he tends to be England's barometer, but can't (as per JSRFs observation about the English back-row) yet grab a game by the scruff of the neck. Argentina exploded into the tournament last time out, it would be folly to write them off.Scotland are desperate though – are they still a potential banana skin for England (history aside)? Also, the Scottish backrow has regressed from 2009, I think I would rather have Wood, Moody and Easter right now.I like the point about England not fearing NZ, and its well-made – in 2007 NZ couldn't deal with France standing up to them – its the minimum requirement if you have serious aspirations of winning it all.

  9. Yeah its a very fair point that I may be flattering the Scots and I was joking about the results history thing – they've been abysmal for a long, long time! just got a sneaky feeling that a team could be emerging there for the world cup. They are starting to get a bit of a logical backline together, still have a good back row, we know all about Hines and they'll also have Gray standing at front of a lineout in probably wet conditions, which could make life difficult for teams trying to build momentum against them. They'll be hard enough to put away.Provided their scrum isn't utterly decimated I just see them being in the hunt in both games. Probably more worth a bet to beat a spread, than to win the matches in fairness, but I just have a nagging feeling about them. I accept this could be drastically wrong and is hard to justify if you are looking at their Magners representatives, where the glass is worse than half empty. Want to get a good look at how they shape up in the warm up matches.

  10. We'll be doing our Scotland preview next week, so I don't want to give too much away… but they have a habit of letting you down. I've been backing them for a good showing for at least the last two 6N tournaments, but when the pressure comes on and they need to win they generally fall to pieces. That Wales game this spring was the worst performance I've seen in a test match in a long time.

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