Rugby World Cup
Why England should not give up all hope in Pool A just yet
John Taylor
September 30, 2015


Parling: Australia now the game of our lives

Everything rests on beating Australia, admits Lancaster". That was the banner headline in one of the heavyweight broadsheets on Monday morning. Talk about stating the obvious!

Of course England have to beat Australia to stand any chance of progressing to the knockout stages, barring a set of freak results that are simply not going to happen. But when they have dusted themselves down and moved on from what was unquestionably a devastating defeat by Wales, the England camp will realise their plight is certainly not terminal.

The British press has gone to town on the worst-case scenario -- not only will tournament revenues collapse, even the stock market will be affected according to City sources -- and appear to have written England off. That is far too premature, as England could still top Pool A!

True, they are no longer masters of their own destiny but they already have two bonus points -- a winning one for scoring four tries against Fiji and a losing one for finishing within seven points of Wales. They are absolutely guaranteed five points against Uruguay in their final Pool A match and that could well put them ahead of Australia -- providing they beat the Wallabies at Twickenham on Saturday -- because the Aussies failed to gain a bonus point against Fiji.

Catt: England's focus on winning, not criticism

When Wales come down from their well-deserved high -- I am guessing their feet are already firmly back on the ground -- they will realise they still have a gargantuan task ahead of them. A four-day turnaround before the Fiji game is tough at any time but becomes hugely difficult to manage with the current crop of injuries.

Wales's record against the South Sea Islanders in World Cups -- they lost to (Western) Samoa in 1991 and were beaten 38-34 by Fiji in 2007 -- hardly augurs well. In 2007 they tried to play Fiji at their own game. It was a wonderfully entertaining feast of fast and loose rugby but fatal for Wales and it was no surprise when then Welsh coach Gareth Jenkins was fired on the back of it.

I do not expect Wales to make the same mistake again but, in playing a tight, limited game, they might struggle to score the four tries and claim the bonus point. That could be all-important because, even with a nine-day recovery period, I believe Wales will now struggle to beat Australia despite the massive boost to team confidence and morale which comes from beating England.

Wallabies would love to spoil the party

In this column before the tournament began, I flagged up Wales' lack of strength in depth and suggested they needed really good luck on the injury front. Sadly, my worst fears were not only justified, they were exceeded. We are still waiting for the prognoses on the injuries from last Saturday but, even if there is some good news and they are not quite as serious as they look, the Welsh back division has been decimated for the Fiji game. The effort against England was truly heroic but the way the match finished, with Rhys Priestland at full-back, George North at centre and Lloyd Williams on the wing, tells its own story.

Fortunately, the forwards are just about still intact but they were under enormous pressure in the set-pieces against England and that is an area where Australia appear to have turned the corner. After several seasons of scrummaging so inept it was embarrassing at times, they performed well in the Rugby Championship and on the evidence so far Wales will struggle for parity. It will be a titanic battle at the breakdown but it now looks as if Australia will have a significant advantage in the backs and that could well be decisive -- for me it tips the scales their way.

Conversely, I can see England storming back with a very big game against the Wallabies on Saturday. They know everything depends on this and they only have to look back to last November when they comprehensively outpowered Australia for confirmation that they have what it takes to beat them.

End of the road for England?

Of course I am hoping Wales defy the injuries and somehow find the physical resources to go with their mental strength to beat the Wallabies and top the group. But if they lose and England win, it is Stuart Lancaster's side who are suddenly the likely group winners with Wales and Australia scrapping for bonus points to decide who goes through with them.

The one thing last Saturday's epic proved beyond all doubt is that this is not a great England team. They are an honest, hardworking, determined band of brothers but take them out of their comfort zone and you see that they are definitely lacking leaders when the going gets tough. There is simply no comparison to the side of 2003 when Martin Johnson had leaders all around him.

Expectation may have been hyped beyond the realistic but it is totally premature for the whole nation to go into mourning. England can still qualify and even end this first stage as top dogs -- it was not labelled the 'Pool of Death' for nothing.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
John Taylor is a former Wales international who toured with the British & Irish Lions in 1968 and 1971. Since retiring he has worked in the media and has covered the last eight Lions tours as a commentator or journalist

Live Sports

Communication error please reload the page.