Rugby World Cup 2015: Pool A profile - can England triumph?
The hosts have World Cup pedigree... but Stuart Lancaster's inexperienced squad must be able to handle the weight of expectation
Winners in 2003 and losing finalists in 1991 and 2007, England have a clear World Cup pedigree. As chief hosts of 2015, they also have a huge weight of expectation on their shoulders. Coach Stuart Lancaster has assembled a talented squad, although his selection policy has been shrouded in controversy with the former PE teacher deciding against the talents of Nick Abendanon and Steffon Armitage, both of whom play in France and were voted European player of the season in the last two years.
In the past, World Cup-winning teams have contained key players with experience – none more so than England's class of 2003, which featured Johnson, Dallaglio, Hill and Wilkinson - but Lancaster has sprung a surprise by selecting untested rugby league convert Sam Burgess for the tournament. Without any natural game-changers, Lancaster will be hoping Burgess can live up to the hype.
The pressure on the shoulders of Chris Robshaw is huge with many believing he's neither a good enough flanker nor captain to warrant a place in the team. Elsewhere, England's centre partnership is inexperienced and Brad Barritt must try and avoid any more injuries if he's to form any sort of threat with the young and exciting Jonathan Joseph. And there are also concerns in the back-row and at hooker, where the suspended Dylan Hartley is sorely missed
Star man: George Ford
Fly-half George Ford's assured performances at outside half during 2015 have brought a rare sense of stability to a key position. He made his professional rugby debut for Leicester at 16 and has the potential to become one of the real stars of the tournament.
One to watch: Tom Youngs
The absence of Dylan Hartley - omitted for disciplinary reasons - could have serious ramifications for England. Replacement hooker Tom Youngs is good in the loose but not the most consistent thrower and England's line-out was a shambles in last month's defeat to France. His deputies, Ron Webber and Jamie George, are inexperienced and England's opponents will look to target the fragility of their line-out, hence the pressure on Young's broad shoulders.
Coach: Stuart Lancaster
This will be the tournament that makes or breaks the reputation of Stuart Lancaster. After the disaster of Martin Johnson's reign, Lancaster enjoyed a two year honeymoon period with the press and public. But a string of poor results, muddled selection and resounding defeat to France in last month's warm-up match have called into question his judgement. Nothing sort of a semi-final spot will placate his critics.