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Failure in their own tournament would be the most embarrassing episode in English sport

Simon Hick discusses the mess England now find themselves in after entering the World Cup infused with hope and optimism.

Simon Hick expected England to crumble but not in the manner they have.
Simon Hick expected England to crumble but not in the manner they have.
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

WATCHING ENGLAND CRUMBLE under pressure was always potentially going to be one of the fun aspects of this World Cup, but nobody could have predicted it would be so sudden, so well rounded and so thorough an implosion.

Management, players, media and ex players are all tearing a little strip off team England.

To be in a position of total dominance, in front of their home crowd, and to then lose a ten point lead to a dishevelled Wales required them to fail on a number of fronts.

The loss of composure, the loss of confidence, the loss of discipline, the creaking defence, the exit strategy, the tactics, the substitutions, the penalty decisions and the lineout calls all accumulated to turn what should have been a 20 point win into a three point loss.

The loss of discipline, however, was the key factor that kept Wales in it. If Stuart Lancaster fails to get out of the group it will be the main reason he loses his job, because it’s the main reason he was hired.

His selection as head coach was a reaction to everything that happened in 2011 under Martin Johnson. The dwarf throwing, the Mike Tindall photos, the ferry leap by Manu Tuilagi, and the tabloid frenzy all led the RFU to the door of Lancaster, who was given a brief to clean up the image of the game in England.

Britain Rugby WCup England Wales Hope has quickly turned to despair. Source: Christophe Ena

In came Chris Robshaw as captain, the man who we were told represented the values and humility new England wanted to nurture. He won’t make anyone’s XV of the tournament, he doesn’t get selected for Lions tours and he rarely makes big plays but he is solid, consistent, tough, likeable and speaks well.

Of all the people who could have accepted responsibility for the loss to Wales, Robshaw is the only one to come close. “That was my call”, he told the TV reporter afterwards. Unfortunately, he also said a whole lot more.

“I spoke to the kickers on the pitch and we decided we wanted to go for the win” he admitted. So he asked for their input, but either ignored it or was told by both men that they didn’t fancy it? He spoke to both kickers (Owen Farrell and George Ford) so wasn’t clear who the first choice kicker was?

It also suggests that the overriding thought in his mind was that they had to go for the win irrespective of the occasion, of the group situation, of how fired up Wales were, of how catastrophic a loss would be, of how well Farrell was kicking, and of how badly their hooker Rob Webber had thrown at the previous lineout.

Whatever management had told him at half time or before the game was blocking out all logic.

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When you see how cagey Ireland are about revealing the tiniest detail about the inner workings of the squad (they don’t even like announcing their team in advance of games), Robshaw has, in comparison, sung like a canary.

The fact that he said anything at all suggests he under estimates how mean the media will be to him for the rest of his career if he captains the side to a group elimination.

Nobody in the squad will have dealt with pressure like this before. Andy Farrell’s call to get ‘everyone behind us this week – the press, the whole of the nation, the crowd’ will fall on deaf ears. The thing England are fighting now, the thing that no other country has to deal with, is a destructive media.

Britain Rugby WCup England Lancaster and England face a make-or-break game this weekend. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Getting knocked out in the group stages by hated foes Australia and Wales, in a tournament they are hosting, would rank as one of the most embarrassing episodes in the history of English sport, up there with the penalty shoot out in 1990 or the 2006/07 5-0 Ashes whitewash.

Only an outright tournament win would sell better than a wholesale disaster, and at the moment the red tops know which is the more likely outcome.

All this has come about after a narrow loss to a very good Welsh team, and it can all be recitified by a win against Australia. Not the biggest hole they’ve ever been in, considering they lost 36-0 to South Africa in the pool stages in 2007 and still made the final.

Wales could yet lose to Fiji and England could beat Australia, but in the meantime every other nation will enjoy watching them scramble to save their careers, their reputations and their unwanted place in sporting history.

Simon Hick is the man behind the rugby on Second Captains, you can follow them on Twitter here.

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