Former England captain Will Carling has doubts over the host nation’s ability to progress from the hardest group in World Cup history after voicing his admiration for their Pool A rivals Australia and Wales.
Fiji’s visit to Twickenham opens the tournament on September 18 before the hosts face the Welsh and Wallabies – both positioned higher in the global rankings – in a pivotal eight-day period.
If Stuart Lancaster’s men win the group they will be offered a kinder route through the knockout phase, but former England captain Carling, who was at the helm for the 1991 World Cup final, insists a place in the quarter-finals is far from certain.
“I’d like to think we’d win the pool, but I just have this feeling that the Aussies have got themselves in very good shape at the right time. I think Australia will do very well” he said.
“It’s my heart that says us, but then I look at Wales and think they’re a very good team.
“Talk about pressure of a home World Cup – no-one has ever played in a pool like that before! That really is pressure and you can’t call it. They’re all quite capable of beating each other.
“It will be all about who gets it right in those games and deals with that pressure the best.
“A huge amount of it will be mental, not physical. And that’s where I think the Aussies are quite smart.”
England are second favourites to win the tournament behind reigning champions New Zealand, but Carling questions whether they have enough seasoned campaigners to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.
“The worrying part is you look at all the teams that have done it in the past and they have very settled combinations and a lot of experience. We don’t have that,” Carling said.
“A huge amount of Test rugby is split-second stuff, instinctive decisions and you get that by playing alongside guys for quite a period of time.
“No, we won’t have that, so we’ll have to make it up in other areas and that will make it hard for us. But we still have home advantage.
“I’m always trying to be positive and so we have to look … it’s not ideal but we have to get on with it.”