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Alex Spink: Will England have the last laugh or is the joke on them?

02 Oct | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Alex Spink: Will England have the last laugh or is the joke on them?

The hosts are a team with a history of delivering big one-off performances when their backs are to the wall, says the Mirror rugby correspondent

Planet rugby is in a state of excitement, united by one delicious thought: England are 80 minutes from being kicked out of their own tournament.

That is the thanks the nation gets for putting on the most profitable World Cup there has ever been.

The gratitude for playing host to a global gathering which has every chance of being remembered more fondly than each of the previous seven.

Not by England it won’t be, not if they lose to Australia.

Fifteen days on from the opening ceremony Stuart Lancaster’s team are in danger of being escorted from the premises.

It is the stuff of nightmares both for Lancaster and the tournament organisers, even if the proceeds from the sale of 2.3 million tickets has already been banked.

But don’t expect sympathy to extend beyond the boundaries of England. There is nothing the rugby world seems to enjoy more than English suffering.

Blaming England’s loss to Wales on arrogance, as New Zealand Herald columnist Chris Rattue did this week, was pathetic but he won’t have been alone in thinking that.

This is the burden England players carry on their shoulders as representatives of the biggest and best resourced union in the game.

Inside their team camp this week they have used it to create an us-against-the-world siege mentality. They are an angry squad with a singular focus. And that makes them dangerous.

Chris Robshaw’s men are driven by an even greater fear of failure than they were a year ago when they put the Wallabies to the sword to rescue a disappointing autumn campaign.

The stakes, of course, are infinitely higher now.

But England are a team with a history of delivering big one-off performances when their backs are to the wall – witness their odds-against defeat of New Zealand in 2012.

They have the advantage in the set-piece and in Owen Farrell they possess a goal kicker par excellence. It is also relevant that this is not a must-win game for Australia.

A year ago England won by playing to their strengths. By scrummaging Australia into the ground then packing down and doing so again. By kicking with purpose and driving mauls with precision.

Ben Morgan, their two-try match winner that day, returns to the side after injury. Tom Wood, under threat of a citing after his swinging leg inadvertently caused Liam Williams’ concussion, is free to play.

England have the forward pack to put their chariot back on track.

The question is do they have the mental strength to do so when the consequences of failure are so frightfully high?

We will find out a lot about Lancaster’s England on Saturday.

Win and they can again be talked of as contenders for the cup. Lose and they will want the ground to swallow them up.

There is no in-between.

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