Ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2023, we take a closer look at how England will fare in this year’s tournament; England kick-off their World Cup campaign against Argentina in Pool D on Saturday in Marseille (8pm UK time)
Last Updated: 06/09/23 4:44pm
When people talk of England’s hopes at this year’s World Cup, conversations of a positive tournament are met with scepticism not witnessed since back in 2007.
Five defeats in six Tests have reduced expectations from outside the camp that the 2003 champions will make any meaningful impact in the tournament, with their most recent defeat to Fiji at Twickenham touted as one of the “darkest” moments in English rugby history.
The Steve Borthwick era has been a tumultuous one so far as the new head coach and his team have suffered more defeats than usual, winning only two games in the Six Nations and losing three out of four of their Rugby World Cup warm-up fixtures.
After a first Test defeat to Fiji, England head coach Steve Borthwick praised the ‘Flying Fijians’ for their dominant performance.
Indeed, there have been issues for both defence and attack, the England backs going six hours between tries before Jonny May crossed the whitewash against Fiji and more than 20 tackles being missed in that same loss.
Despite some glaring shortcomings, Borthwick believes his side have been “written off too early” and will only come back stronger.
“We’ve been through a pretty turbulent time but I sense it has made us stronger,” Borthwick told BBC Sport.
Kevin Sinfield says one from four victory’s in England’s build-up to the Rugby World Cup is ‘disappointing’ but Danny Care is confident of recapturing their form.
“And I sense for us there is a renewed determination. And I certainly get the feeling from the players that they feel they have been written off a bit too early.
“There is a feeling people have rung time on these players. And I think that decision may have been made a little bit too early.”
So, why does Borthwick have such a quiet confidence? Let’s take a look…
Generous pool grouping
The argument made by many is that Pool D is a comfortable one for England to be a part of and that they should win the majority of their matches against Japan, Samoa, Chile and Argentina, with the Pumas posing the biggest threat to their chances of finishing top of the group.
Will Greenwood believes England will be keen to put an end to the external noise that has plagued them in the build-up to the World Cup.
While England should feel optimistic about at least progressing to the quarter-finals, there are tougher routes for other teams, New Zealand and France grouped together in Pool A while South Africa, Ireland, and Scotland are in Pool B, and Wales, Australia, and Fiji feature in Pool C.
Despite a confidence they can seal up a qualification spot, Argentina go into this year’s World Cup two places higher in the world rankings and England know if they fall again to a Pumas side that beat them 30-29 last year, they will have no room for manoeuvre in the rest of their fixtures.
Former Rugby World Cup winner Maggie Alphonsi previews England’s chances ahead of the World Cup following some poor form in their warm-up matches.
Progression is the minimum expectation and it will be considered a travesty by many if one of Japan, Samoa or Chile take that second spot.
Experience in spades
Although England haven’t been firing on all cylinders as of late, one thing they have heading into this World Cup is a squad brimming with experience.
Eleven of England’s squad started their World Cup final against the Springboks in 2019 and know exactly what it takes to perform well in such a cut-throat competition with the finest of margins.
Players from 2019 World Cup final in current squad:
As they seek to get to the final once more, they have players who have been there, done it, and got the t-shirt(s) – that cannot be underestimated when the eyes of the rugby world are firmly on you.
Under pressure, led by such a leadership group, they should know exactly what it takes.
Flying in under the radar to come good at the right time
The one positive of being “written off” is that it allows a team to very much fly under the radar and this is an area in which England can capitalise.
Former England fullback Jason Robinson believes Steve Borthwick’s current squad has a lot of work to do in order to overcome their poor form and succeed at the Rugby World Cup.
England are ready to start Tom Curry in Saturday’s opener against Argentina if there are no setbacks in his recovery from an ankle injury and the influential 25-year-old is so valuable to England – especially in defence – that he can slot straight into the back row.
Then, they will then welcome back captain Owen Farrell and the ever-influential Billy Vunipola following their suspensions at just the right time, some fresh and experienced bodies only adding at a crucial moment in the competition.
Could they turn negatives into positives and come good at just the right time?
One last World Cup: A point to prove?
Although it isn’t confirmed, this is almost certain to be the last World Cup for a large contingent of this England squad.
Captain Owen Farrell alongside the likes of George Ford, Ben Youngs, Danny Care, Courtney Lawes and Jonny May will be treating this as their final chance to win the World Cup and they will want to leave that lasting legacy from their international career.
They came so close in 2019 and if they could finally get over the line, it will be the pinnacle of their careers and one that many of them will rue retiring without reaching.
With finality comes an extra added layer of grit and desperation that could spur England on to greater heights than have been envisioned for them at this World Cup.
Follow England’s opening Rugby World Cup match against Argentina across Sky Sports’ digital platforms from 7.30pm, kick-off 8pm on Saturday.