BY JOHN GUBBA
Not since the first ever Rugby World Cup in 1987 have New Zealand’s All Blacks claimed the ultimate prize – and the pressure will be on the host nation to make amends when the 2011 tournament gets under way in Auckland on September 9.
The Kiwis are the favourites to lift the Web Ellis Trophy and rightly so. But how will the tournament’s biggest under-achievers cope with the fear of failure? If England can get out of pool B and qualify for the quarter-finals, they will expect to face France or New Zealand.
On recent form it is hard to fancy Martin Johnson’s men. But England have a good track record in the Rugby World Cup and are no strangers to upsetting the odds. Beating Ireland 20-9 in Dublin for the first time since 2003 this afternoon was certainly a timely boost in the final warm-up before setting off for New Zealand.
With England opting for a controversial All Black strip as their change kit, how ironic would it be if a team playing in all black other than New Zealand were to win the final.
That of course would be a major shock and would definitely upset the hosts, whose Prime Minister John Key and former All Blacks wing Jonah Lomu have accused England of “disrespecting” their country by replicating their famous strip.
To me that sounds like England have won the pre-tournament mind games.
Like it or not, England will switch from all white to all black in their opening match against Argentina on September 10. And as England flanker Tom Wood said recently: “It has the red rose on it and that is all that matters to us,”
ENGLAND’S 30-MAN SQUAD
Props: Dan Cole (Leicester, Age 24, 17 caps), Alex Corbisiero (London Irish, 22, 6), Andrew Sheridan (Sale, 31, 38), Matt Stevens (Saracens, 28, 34), David Wilson (Bath, 26, 18).
Hookers: Dylan Hartley (Northampton, 25, 29), Lee Mears (Bath, 32, 37), Steve Thompson (Wasps, 33, 67).
Locks: Louis Deacon (Leicester, 30, 24), Courtney Lawes (Northampton, 22, 9), Tom Palmer (Stade Francais, 32, 27), Simon Shaw (unattached, 37, 67).
Back row: Tom Croft (Leicester, 25, 25), Nick Easter (Harlequins, 33, 44), James Haskell (Ricoh Black Rams, 26, 36), Lewis Moody (Bath, 33, 67), Tom Wood (Northampton, 24, 7).
Full-backs/wings: Delon Armitage (London Irish, 27, 20), Ben Foden (Northampton, 26, 16), Chris Ashton (Northampton, 24, 12), Mark Cueto (Sale, 31, 52).
Centres: Matt Banahan (Bath, 24, 13), Shontayne Hape (London Irish, 30, 12), Mike Tindall (Gloucester, 32, 71), Manu Tuilagi (Leicester, 20, 1).
Fly-halves: Toby Flood (Leicester, 26, 41), Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon, 32, 86).
Scrum-halves: Joe Simpson (Wasps, 23, 0), Richard Wigglesworth (Saracens, 28, 7), Ben Youngs (Leicester, 21, 12).