ENGLAND have had some difficult moments in the build-up to this World Cup but I think they should be fairly happy as they prepare to get their tournament underway tomorrow in Dunedin.
There have been injuries, but not too many, and results in warm-up matches – those games that matter but not really – are always tricky and should not be over-analysed.
But more than that, the last few weeks have seen two massive positives arrive in the re-emergence of Jonny Wilkinson and the extraordinary promise of Manu Tuilagi.
Jonny is deservedly back in front of Toby Flood in the fly-half pecking order. It’s fascinating to see Wilkinson, who has played so well at Toulon, control and win a game. Flood is a good kicker but there is no-one in the world at delivering at crucial moments like Jonny.
The hype round Tuilagi, meanwhile, is absolutely justified and it would not surprise me if he turned out to be the player of the tournament.
He is young but already a hulk of a man, quick and skilful. He has brought a completely new dimension to England’s play and although I didn’t think his centre partnership with Mike Tindall would work, it definitely has so far.
A slight negative is the unavailability of Lewis Moody against Argentina. There is no-one else like him anywhere; he is Mad Dog and gets out there and leads by example. Having said that, England can play without their regular captain, as they have shown this year.
Johnson has got his squad about right, in my opinion. I was surprised to see Riki Flutey miss out but, for fringe players, much rests on versatility and Matt Banahan offers options on the wing as well as midfield. Three scrum-halves are probably necessary and Richard Wigglesworth has come through very well indeed.
England have the ability to play a wide game, as they did at times in the Six Nations and in Australia last year. But I don’t think they are massively comfortable playing that way from anywhere. I expect they’ll play a very powerful game with Tuilagi, and a very controlled one – they have forwards who can really batter the opposition.
My tip for glory is New Zealand, if only to heap more pressure on the hosts. But with Wilkinson, a great back three, Tuilagi coming through, power in the pack and a World Cup winner as manager, England look a good outside bet.
Kyran Bracken was speaking courtesy of GamePlan Solutions: Managing high profile and popular sport stars; speakers, leaders, motivators and ambassadors www.gameplansolutions.co.uk