JHHF Rugby Round-Up
Home advantage will mask the inconsistencies in England’s squad at the Rugby World Cup, according to former centre Jeremy Guscott, who tips the 2003 champions to reach at least the semi-finals.
The 50-year-old featured in the last World Cup held on home soil back in 1991, when England lost 12-6 to Australia in the final. And, given the fact that three host nations have won the competition in seven editions of the tournament (in 1987, 1995 and 2011), Guscott believes the current side can ride a wave of hysteria once again to reach at least the last four — despite apparent shortfalls in Stuart Lancaster’s squad.
“They’ve struggled to get any consistency, the wingers have changed continuously from the last World Cup, the half-backs have been changing since 2007 and the centres have been changing since 2003,” said Guscott, speaking at OSN’s Rugby World Cup coverage launch at Dubai Media City on Wednesday.
“Consistency has been difficult and that’s where I feel England have fallen down a little bit as they are not used to playing together. But I played at Twickenham in 1991 and there’s nothing better than creating your own feel-good factor.
“We lost to the Kiwis in that opener [in 1991],” added the former Bath player, who also represented England at the 1995 and 1999 World Cups.
“But then we went on this run of victories. Full steam ahead, the train was steaming with the support of the home crowd and, wherever you went, you got a pat on the back and were cheered on, and that feel-good factor really helped us. And I think it will do the same for England’s confidence and chances now.
“Their record at home is impeccable. In the last 10 games they’ve only lost twice at Twickenham — apart from South Africa and New Zealand they’ve beaten everyone. The record of home nations playing in World Cups is also good and I don’t see it changing.”
Guscott predicted the semi-finals would be England against Ireland and New Zealand against South Africa, and after that he said he would take a call based on form nearer the time.
“This will be one of the toughest competitions in a while,” he said. “Most notably because the minor teams have had so much time together for a change. But Ireland have done so well in the Six Nations [winning in 2014 and 2015] and England are at home.
“New Zealand, unless they get caught out in the quarter-final, will definitely make the semi-final, and South Africa are a good side. All four will be difficult to beat.”
But, in reaction to the suggestion that the 1987 and 2011 champions New Zealand would walk the competition, Guscott added: “They are likely to face France or Ireland in the quarter-final and either of them can go through the All Blacks. In the pool stage, New Zealand’s only test is Argentina, so they will be undercooked regardless of their experience and expertise.
“They’ll be undercooked come the quarter-final and can lose that as easy as any side can lose those quarter-finals, apart from England because they are playing at home.”