England team fights for World Cup survival
England, led by captain Chris Robshaw, entered an early day of World Cup reckoning on Saturday needing to beat Australia to avoid becoming the first hosts to fail to reach the knockout rounds.
Two- time world champions South Africa also face a tough battle against Scotland in their search for redemption after losing their first game to Japan.
Robshaw and England coach Stuart Lancaster go into the Pool A game at Twickenham with their jobs on the line.
Amid a new surge of national expectations, Saturday’s newspapers piled pressure on the national team. “World on their shoulders,” said a Daily Telegraph headline. “The captain’s last stand,” declared the Daily Mail.
Lancaster, stunned after England gave up a winning position to lose 28-25 to Wales last week, gave a final rallying cry on the eve of the crunch match for which centre Jonathan Joseph makes a return from injury.
“My final words to the players will be do it for everyone,” he said.
“To do it for the rugby clubs, the mums and dads and kids who play rugby, for their families, for the former players.”
Australia’s coach Michael Cheika has cut a calmer figure, though he said his side is treats every match at the tournament “like a World Cup final.”
“I believe in my players 201 percent,” he said going into the sellout match at Twickenham.
England have won three of the five matches between the two rivals at World Cups, including the 2003 final Sydney. But Australia have won 24 of their games overall, with 18 for England and one drawn.
A failure at this stage would be a huge embarrassment for the hosts, who wanted to use the World Cup to draw more people to the sport. Over £85 million (US$130 million) has been spent on infrastructure for the tournament, according to an Ernst and Young consultancy survey.
South Africa face their own crunch match at Newcastle against Scotland in Pool B.
They suffered a stunning 34-32 defeat by Japan in their opening game. And, despite winning their second match 46-6 against Samoa, the Springboks have also lost their captain Jean de Villiers, who suffered a broken jaw in the game and decided to retire from international rugby.
The South Africans need a new win to get their campaign for the quarterfinals fully back on track. But Scotland are one of two sides who have taken maximum win and bonus points from their first two games.
“We still need to grind it out and the Scotland game is our next step,” said South Africa No. 8 Duane Vermeulen. “The vibe has been a lot better this week and the main focus is still how we want to play and what we want to achieve.”
Scotland, who beat Japan and the United States, have injury worries but are still optimistic. Tens of thousands of Scots are ex- pected to cross the border to see the game in the northeast city of Newcastle.
“The support for us in this World Cup has been phenomenal. It was really special in Leeds last week (against the U.S. team),” said coach Very Cotter. “A lot of us noted that, and it should be even bigger in Newcastle.”
The third match of the day, also in Pool B, sees Japan play Samoa with both sides still harboring an outside chance of a place in the quarterfinals.
Australia’s head coach Michael Cheika, left, and Australia’s wing Adam AshleyCooper, right, deliver a press conference at Twickenham Stadium in southwest London, Friday, Oct. 2, the eve of their 2015 Rugby Union World Cup match against England.