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Now has to be the time for England

2015-09-08 14:50
Stuart Lancaster (Gallo)

London - As hosts of the 2015 Rugby World Cup and a country blessed with one of the world's largest playing bases, not to mention its wealthiest union, England ought to be bullish about their chances of lifting the Webb Ellis Cup.

So it was more than curious when the Rugby Football Union's very own rugby director, Rob Andrew, suggested in a recent interview that England might be an even better side in the future.

"Is this team going to peak at this World Cup? I don't know. I doubt it, to be honest," Andrew told the Daily Telegraph.

"I suspect this team will get better over the next two or three years. I don't think there's any question of that, because the age profile and the experience profile is going to grow."

However, the former England flyhalf added: "That doesn't mean, today, it's not going to be good enough, or have the experience to win this World Cup."

It all sounded suspiciously like a case of getting your excuses in first from a man who has held his position at Twickenham while coaches such as Martin Johnson have come and gone.

When England coach Stuart Lancaster took over following the team's quarter-final exit from the 2011 World Cup, he spoke about the need to build experience into the side yet it's possible he could find himself fielding a novice midfield of Henry Slade and rugby league convert Sam Burgess, whose inclusion in the final 31-man squad remains controversial.

Yet it is far from unrealistic to see England, the 2003 champions, winning the World Cup - especially if they come out on top of a tough pool that also includes Australia and Wales.

They boast a powerful pack, featuring forceful captain Chris Robshaw, although ideally the ball-carrying load would not fall quite so heavily on hooker Tom Youngs.

Doubts too remain about the efficiency of England's line-out given Dylan Hartley, who would have been first-choice hooker instead of Youngs, has been banned from the squad for disciplinary reasons.

Yet if England's forwards can produce quick ball they have, in flyhalf George Ford and fleet-footed centre Jonathan Joseph, the players to do something with it.

Meanwhile wings Jonny May and Anthony Watson, as they showed with an impressive early try apiece in England's 19-13 win over Six Nations champions Ireland at Twickenham in their final warm-up match at Twickenham last weekend, know how to finish.

But the fact England lost a couple of scrums against the head would have been a concern give the set piece has long been a traditional source of strength.

So too would the lack of ruthlessness that saw Tom Youngs, with England 12-3 up after 24 minutes, butcher what could have been a match-clinching try with a forward pass.

England have not completed a Six Nations Grand Slam since 2003 and have yet to beat South Africa on Lancaster's watch, although they did managed a thrilling 30-22 win over world champions New Zealand at Twickenham in 2013.

Now the question is can they string enough high-class wins together?

One thing in their favour is that England's crunch pool games against Australia and Wales will be at Twickenham, where they should be able to count on a sell-out crowd roaring them on, although they will do well not to under-estimate Fiji, their opponents in the tournament opener on September 18.

"I know this team is ready," said Lancaster. "But there are six or seven other teams who can win.

"Playing at Twickenham and playing the way we did (against Ireland) we can beat anyone.

"But we need to keep improving and put a consistent run of games together."

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