With the 2015 Rugby World Cup now just days away, we take a closer look at each of the competing nations. Next up…
World Cup track record:
England’s crowning moment came in 2003 when they won the Rugby World Cup in Australia, defeating the hosts in extra-time thanks to Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal. They have played in two other World Cup finals, losing in 1991 to Australia and in 2007 to South Africa. England have never failed to make it out of the group stage but have lost in the quarter-finals three times – 1987, 1999 and 2011.
1995: Fourth place
2011 World Cup: Viewed by many as England’s worst World Cup campaign to date, Martin Johnson’s team arrived in New Zealand with few expectations but still struggled both on and off the field. A narrow 13-9 win over Argentina and 16-12 victory against Scotland put England through to the quarter-finals where they were defeated by eventual finalists France, giving England a dramatic early exit much to the frustration of supporters and the media, with drastic changes made including the sacking of Johnson, while off-field incidents marred the campaign.
World Cup Stats: P40, W29, D0, L11
– Most RWC appearances: Jason Leonard (22)
– Most appearances: Jason Leonard (114)
– Top RWC points scorer: Jonny Wilkinson (277)
– Top points scorer: Jonny Wilkinson (1179)
– Top RWC try scorers: Rory Underwood (11)
– Top try scorer: Rory Underwood (49)
Form: England came desperately close to a first Six Nations title under Stuart Lancaster, eventually missing out on points difference to Ireland on the final day. They had started the tournament well with a win away to Pool A rivals Wales despite some key injuries, and followed that up with an easy win over Italy. After being outplayed in Ireland they responded with a comfortable win over Scotland before putting France to the sword in their final game of the tournament. In their warm-up matches England defeated France at home before bringing back their big guns for the return leg in Paris and suffering a loss.
Coach: Stuart Lancaster worked his way up to the top job in England rugby after his success within the national set-up with England’s ‘A’ side, the England Saxons. A Scotland U21 international during his playing career, Lancaster started out as a coach with Leeds, now known as Yorkshire Carnegie, where he worked in the youth set-up before being named director of rugby in 2005. Three years later Lancaster took up his first post in the RFU when he was named Elite Rugby Director, where he was charged with helping to developing England’s young players of who many he would go on to coach in the national side. Following the success of the England Saxons and the resignation of Martin Johnson after the 2011 Rugby World Cup, Lancaster was appointed as England interim head coach for the 2012 Six Nations. A successful campaign when England finished second resulted in him winning the role full-time. Under Lancaster, England have achieved four second-place finishes in the Six Nations and defeated every major side in world rugby aside from South Africa.
Captain: Chris Robshaw was named England captain in only his second Test for his country ahead of the start of the 2012 Six Nations, when the England squad and management underwent a radical shake-up. An impressive performer and leader for Harlequins since making his club debut in 2005. His performances led to Robshaw winning the Premiership Player of the Year award in 2009 and 2012, the latter coming after Harlequins won the Premiership title.
Robshaw made his Test debut in 2009 against Argentina but failed to make the cut for England’s Rugby World Cup squad in 2011 despite impressing during training camp. Robshaw has captained England to victory over New Zealand at Twickenham and also to wins over Australia, despite criticism early on in his tenure over his decision-making and also his selection as an openside flanker. In 2014/2015 he has answered those calls for his dismissal with exceptional performances both in terms of his defence and leadership, winning the respect of the media and supporters and securing the captaincy for the 2015 Rugby World Cup to be held on home soil.
Key players: Having started out with a young squad after his appointment in 2012, Lancaster has developed an exciting group of players. That starts up front with Joe Launchbury, the Wasps second row who missed the 2015 Six Nations through injury but has won acclaim from the England coaching staff for his work rate and skills at the set-piece. His partnership with Courtney Lawes has been effective for England when both players have been fit. At the back of the scrum England are lucky to have two bruising ball carriers in Ben Morgan and Billy Vunipola, with the Saracens number eight required to get England moving forward.
Behind the scrum, George Ford is a relatively new addition to the England starting XV but his attacking ability has made England an exciting force again. His link-up with Bath teammate Jonathan Joseph was effective during the Six Nations and England will hope both players can come out firing when they kick off their World Cup campaign against Fiji in September. Mike Brown, named Six Nations Player of the Year in 2014, is a rock at full-back.
Profile: Despite enjoying the largest player pool in world rugby and exceptional resources, England haven’t always been able to deliver the expected success on the field. In recent years there has been a degree of patience towards how the side are progressing under Stuart Lancaster after what was seen as a disastrous 2011 World Cup campaign.
England’s 2003 success, when they were the number one side in the world and had recently defeated New Zealand and Australia away from home before lifting the Webb Ellis trophy in Sydney, remains the pinnacle moment of English rugby and was built around the side’s experience, the power of their pack and the kicking of Jonny Wilkinson.
Fast forward to today and England play with arguably a far more expansive style but still rely on a strong set-piece and kicking game, with their scrum and lineout rated as one of the best in the game. Where they currently fall short is experience, possessing a far smaller number of caps than teams like New Zealand and South Africa. England fans however will hope that home advantage can propel the side to a possible fourth World Cup final and second title.
Despite that potential, England haven’t won a Six Nations title since 2011 or a Grand Slam since 2003 – the same year as their only World Cup triumph. How exciting talents like George Ford and Jonathan Joseph react to the biggest stage of all will be fundamental for any success, but England are in a better place four years on from their disaster in New Zealand and have won the respect of the public again.
Prospects in 2015: World Cup success is certainly a realistic possibility for the host nation and reaching the semi-finals is seen as a minimum requirement, but England have a tough group alongside Australia and Wales. That said, they have huge potential.
18 Sep – 20:00: v Fiji, Twickenham (London)
26 Sep – 20:00: v Wales, Twickenham (London)
3 Oct – 20:00 v Australia, Twickenham (London)
10 Oct – 20:00 v Uruguay, Manchester