London - England coach Stuart Lancaster may well end up feeling grateful for the raft of injury setbacks which have characterised his Rugby World Cup preparations, says former flank Neil Back.
A member of England's triumphant 2003 World Cup-winning side, Back told Reuters that injuries to key players including Geoff Parling, Dan Cole and Manu Tuilagi had allowed key new talent to come to the fore and shine.
"We discovered (Joe) Marler, (Joe) Launchbury and (Jonathan) Joseph because of the injuries," Back said.
"We have got a few players who are key but we have lots of depth and cover in every position now. There is massive competition for places."
Back, now 46, was a member of a settled England side 12 years ago which started the World Cup in Australia as the top-ranked team, having beaten all major rivals.
They duly delivered England's first, and only, victory in the global showpiece event.
"In 2003 (coach) Clive Woodward knew 12 or 13 of his team going into the tournament," Back said. "It was just a case of tweaking certain players for particular games or opponents.
"Stuart has perhaps 25 or 26 very good players who are all in contention for starting places and that makes his job more difficult. But competition for places is exactly what you want."
Back said he had been encouraged by England's 19-14 victory over France in a warm-up match last week.
"The game against France ticked a lot of boxes. New guys came in and put their hands up for places in the team by playing well. And we won the game.
"(Henry) Slade, (Sam) Burgess and (Calum) Clark put their hands up for selection. Winning momentum is absolutely crucial."
Back has no doubts about former rugby league player Burgess, though he is still not sure about his best position.
"He has got the skill-set to be the complete modern rugby player," he said. "No matter what number he has on his back he can play different positions in the same game and make an impact."
Whichever players make the cut for England, Back is under no illusions about the size of the task ahead.
"This is the most competitive World Cup there has ever been," he said. "There are genuinely eight teams who can win it. Three are in our pool and one of them is going out early. There is no easy way to win the World Cup."