Rugby World Cup 2015 on TV: England v Australia, 7:15pm Saturday 3rd October ITV (kick-off 8pm)
Pool A: too close to call, too full of rugby talent, too complicated. But in the last week the equation for England has become horribly simple: win, or drop out of their own tournament.
Lose against Australia, and England almost certainly will be the first host nation to be knocked out of the Rugby World Cup at the group stage. The players have borne much since being beaten by Wales, and this weekend they will have to cope with even more pressure on their, admittedly giant, shoulders.
Lawrence Dallaglio, Will Greenwood and many, many more said before the tournament that home advantage would lift this inexperienced side to greatness. But against Wales, the Twickenham factor stifled them.
Level-headedness, efficiency, Chris Robshaw’s assured leadership – all dissipated in the face of Wales’s inspired revival. The desperate chants of Sweet Chariot didn’t carry England home.
Robshaw has more to carry than most against Australia, and not just because he’s captain. As flanker, he will have to shut down one of the best back row units in the tournament. Michael Hooper and David Pocock are devilish at the breakdown, rummaging in the ruck, clamping themselves round the man on the deck, forcing turnovers and worse.
England gave away 12 penalties against Wales – many of them within goal range for sharpshooting fly half Dan Biggar. Cut out that ill discipline at the breakdown, and England might just be able to keep Australia at arm’s length. The Pocock-Hooper axis mustn’t be allowed to spoil England’s World Cup party.
And England certainly have the ability and experience of beating the Australians. England have won their last three World Cup matches against them, and beat the Aussies again 26-17 at Twickenham last year.
Jonathan Joseph comes in for Sam Burgess, reuniting with Brad Barritt, the same centre partnership that started the tournament in winning fashion against Fiji.
England have enough to beat Australia. Win, and the balance tips back against the Welsh, who have not beaten Australia in their last ten matches. England knew they would have to shoulder the burden of a home World Cup, but it wouldn’t hurt to make their Pool A rivals feel the strain too.
Coach Mike Catt called all the post-Wales criticism and soul-searching “white noise”. Perhaps they need to treat the crowd the same way if they are to keep their heads in the Twickenham passion pit.
White noise, blank slate, clean start. England’s Rugby World Cup can’t end here.