England’s shock 28-25 loss to Wales leaves them facing a pivotal clash with Australia next weekend (Source: Getty)
Pre-tournament chatter centred on England emulating the World Cup-winning class of 2003, but scrum-half Ben Youngs admits Saturday’s must-win showdown against Australia represents the current vintage’s moment of destiny.
England’s 28-25 error-strewn Twickenham surrender to an injury-plagued Wales at the weekend means Stuart Lancaster’s side are running the risk of becoming the first host nation to suffer group-stage elimination.
Replicating their autumn success against the Wallabies, the No2 ranked team in the world, is the only antidote to an era-defining collapse on home soil, and the magnitude of England’s task is not lost on Youngs.
“We felt we could and should have won against Wales and it hurts, that’s natural, but next week becomes our World Cup final,” said Youngs.
“So we’ll rock up to Twickenham on Saturday with the ambition and will to give everything and put everything on the line because we know we carry the hopes of the nation. We also have huge ambitions and hopes individually and collectively as a side and we want to make sure that our tournament doesn’t end after Uruguay.
“We have to make sure we’re mad for it against Australia and I’m sure we will be but we’ve also got to learn some very key lessons and discipline springs to mind.”
Youngs watched the last half-hour of England’s Welsh demise from the sidelines after being forced from the pitch in the 49th minute with an ankle injury and replaced by Richard Wigglesworth.
The 26-year-old insists he will be fit to face Australia and, while no nation has ever lifted the Webb Ellis Cup having lost in the group stage, he refuses to accept that England’s defeat is terminal to their World Cup campaign.
“We’re very disappointed but without doubt it’s not over,” added Youngs, who made a canny blindside break to set-up Jonny May’s first-half try against the Welsh.
“Handling pressure is part of the game and there will be no lack of leadership or a lack of understanding of exactly what we have to do to beat Australia. I have no doubt with the individuals and the cohesion we have in the squad, we’ll dust ourselves down and come back.”
Test rookie Sam Burgess, meanwhile, insists that Michael Cheika’s Australia would love nothing more than to strike the fatal blow which knocks host nation England out of their home tournament. Burgess was a prominent figure for South Sydney Rabbitohs in Australia’s National Rugby League before switching codes less than a year ago and forcing his way into Lancaster’s World Cup plans.
“I spent five years down there and I know what they’re like and I’m sure they would [enjoy knocking out England], but we have just got to get on with our job, not worry too much about them and focus on what we can improve on,” said Burgess.
“There is a lot on the line but that’s what we play the game for and why we like it. We’ll look forward to it.”
ENGLAND’S LOSS TO WALES IN SIX SORRY STATISTICS
WALES SCORED MORE POINTS AT TWICKENHAM THAN EVER BEFORE
Only once before has a northern hemisphere side scored more than the 28 points Wales mustered at the home of English rugby. France scored 35 points in this year's final Six Nations game as England adopted a cavalier approach in a bid to score the points needed to win the championship.
IT WAS A WELSH POINTS RECORD FOR A WORLD CUP GAME (AGAINST A NORTHERN HEMISPHERE SIDE)
And only once before have the Welsh ever scored more against a Tier One team at rugby’s showpiece tournament, when they notched 37 points in a loss to New Zealand in 2003.
DAN BIGGAR SET A NEW WALES WORLD CUP POINTS RECORD
No matter that Wales have played Namibia, Japan, Uruguay and Canada in Rugby World Cups, Biggar's 23 points – thanks to a 100 per cent success rate on seven penalties and one conversion – was a new record for a Wales player in a single match.
ENGLAND'S FIRST LOSS TO A NORTHERN HEMISPHERE SIDE IN THE WORLD CUP GROUP STAGE
England have only lost to northern hemisphere teams twice before, on both occasions in New Zealand and in the quarter-finals: at the 1987 World Cup to Wales, and during the 2011 tournament to France.
ENGLAND HAVE ALREADY CONCEDED MORE POINTS THAN THEY DID IN THE GROUP STAGE FOUR YEARS AGO
England conceded 34 points in their 2011 group matches featuring Argentina, Scotland, Romania and Georgia. From half the number of games (against two tough opposition in Fiji and Australia) they've already conceded 39 points.
ENGLAND THREW AWAY A SEVEN POINT (OR MORE) HALF-TIME LEAD FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 27 GAMES
England were 16-9 up at half-time. The last time they surrendered as big a half-time advantage was in February 2008 – also against Wales.