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England at long odds to retain the Rugby World Cup, but Wilkinson is the joker in the pack

England at long odds to retain the Rugby World Cup, but Wilkinson is the joker in the pack

England is the biggest outsider to retain the World Cup in the tournament's 20-year history.
Listed at 25-to-1 by bookmakers to lift the William Webb Ellis Trophy once again, England is a longer shot than previous winners New Zealand (1987), Australia ('91 and '99) and South Africa ('95) were in each following tournament.
With a 4-6 record in 2007 and sitting at No. 7, just above Wales, Italy and Samoa in the top-10 ranked countries by the International Rugby Board, England has fallen a long way since flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson kicked an extra-time dropped goal to beat Australia 20-17 in the 2003 final.
Coach Brian Ashton has been criticized for selecting a conservative, ageing 30-man squad for the tournament in France, relying on 13 players, eight of whom are forwards, who were on the roster four years ago.
The average age of this squad is 29 years and four months, nearly two years older than the 2003 squad, which was nicknamed "Dad's Army" before it even set foot in Australia.
Ashton was not helped by injuries to several backs. Scrumhalf Harry Ellis (knee), flyhalf Charlie Hodgson (knee), winger David Strettle (foot) and center Mike Tindall (broken leg) were not considered for selection.
But Ashton has picked only one specialist openside flanker in Tom Rees (5 test caps) instead of a more dynamic backrower in James Haskell. Lewis Moody and Joe Worsley were expected to act as backups.
Former Britain rugby league captain Andy Farrell has four test appearances and will compete with Mike Catt, 36 in September and playing in his fourth World Cup, and Dan Hipkiss (one cap) for the inside-center position.
The 35-year-old Lawrence Dallaglio has made the squad despite former England captain Will Carling labeling him a potentially "divisive influence." Dallaglio rubbished that claim, though he didn't hold back in criticizing England's form after losing two warmups to France in consecutive weeks in August without scoring a try.
"It has given us a bit of a reality check," he said after the second 22-9 loss in Marseille. "We've got to make sure we don't make the same mistakes in our World Cup campaign.
"We never really had a cutting edge. Our problem was that we were never really on the front foot after the first 10 minutes."
England was defeated 21-15 first up by France at Twickenham despite having more than 60 percent of possession through a dominant scrum and lineout. Still, Les Bleus went over twice.
"We thought we had learnt the lessons (from the 20-15 defeat)," winger Josh Lewsey said. "But we didn't put them into practice. We felt that we didn't do ourself justice. We weren't good enough, we need to rectify that."
England is in Pool A with South Africa, Samoa, United States and Tonga. England's clash with South Africa on Sept. 14 at Stade de France in Saint-Denis will undoubtedly decide the pool winner, and probably avoid a clash with Australia in the quarterfinals. Wales, which lost 62-5 to England on Aug. 4, is the more likely quarterfinal opponent.
Wilkinson is the third all-time leading scorer in World Cup history. He has 182 points, 13 behind former Wallabies flyhalf Michael Lynagh and 45 back from former Scotland fullback Gavin Hastings. If England is to become the first nation to win back-to-back World Cups then Wilkinson will need to stay fit and kick straight.


Updated : 2021-05-12 07:04 GMT+08:00