England's RWC pool 'toughest ever'

2015-08-13 22:13
Martin Johnson (File)

London - Rugby World Cup-winning captain Martin Johnson has said being drawn in the "toughest pool" the tournament has known could yet benefit hosts England - if they see off the likes of Australia and Wales to finish top of the pool.

Johnson, who skippered England to World Cup glory when they beat Australia in the 2003 final in Sydney, is in no doubt of the scale of the task confronting the current Red Roses side.

Tournament hosts England face Fiji, a side with a reputation for raising their game at World Cups, two-time champions Australia and familiar foes Wales on consecutive weekends in Pool A.

The way in which Australia beat reigning world champions New Zealand 27-19 in Sydney last week, to claim the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship, has been duly noted in the England camp.

But Stuart Lancaster's side know that if they top their pool they will have a route to a Twickenham final that sees whoever is at the summit of Pool A avoid the ever-dangerous All Blacks and South Africa until the showpiece match itself.

"It's the toughest pool there has ever been in a World Cup and someone will be going home early," Johnson said on Wednesday.

"Whoever loses England v Wales, their next game becomes a must win. They'll have to beat Australia just to stay in the tournament," the second row great explained.

Johnson, an ambassador for tournament sponsors Mastercard, added: "But in a way it won't do England any harm at all.

"It's often the teams that have to fight and battle who will be in the best position come the end of the World Cup. If they win the group then it doesn't really get any harder, at least until the final."

England's match against Australia on October 3 promises to be one of the highlights of the group stage, with former lock Johnson reckoning the Wallabies to be the world's most dangerous side in broken play.

"Australia can be utterly lethal when it comes to scoring tries out of situations where there's nothing on, more so any other team in the world," said Johnson, who led England to a 20-17 win over the Wallabies in the 2003 World Cup final.

"They execute with their hands very, very well and suddenly they're in. They score tries and that makes them lethal.

"People perceive they have weaknesses here and there, but they're usually able to cover them up. They almost won a World Cup in 2003 when they couldn't really scrummage.

"If England get ascendancy in the scrum and the referee penalises Australia, it makes a big difference to the game. If he doesn't penalise, then it nullifies the advantage at the scrum."

Meanwhile, Johnson said England could not afford to under-estimate Fiji, who beat Samoa last week to win the Pacific Nations Cup title, in their World Cup opener at Twickenham on September 18.

"It's a perfect opening game for Fiji because while everyone is talking about England, Wales and Australia, they'll be thinking 'whoa, don't forget us, we can play a bit too'," he said.

"And that opening match is always a tough one. In 2007 France lost as hosts, albeit to a very good Argentina side.

"If England go behind against Fiji, the crowd gets a bit nervous and the players get nervous, you have to keep your head and keep playing. Teams like Fiji with nothing to lose are very difficult in those situations.

"It starts from the first kick-off in England's pool because there's no room for manoeuvre, you must hit the ground running."

Read more on:    england  |  wallabies  |  wales  |  rwc 2015  |  martin johnson  |  rugby

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