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Last Updated: Monday, 3 September 2007, 21:03 GMT 22:03 UK
England RWC team guide
A one-stop guide to all you need to know about England for the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

Fixtures (Pool A):

  • v USA - 8 September, 1700 BST, Lens
  • v South Africa - 14 September, 2000 BST, Saint-Denis
  • v Samoa - 22 September, 1500 BST, Nantes
  • v Tonga - 28 September, 2000 BST, Paris

    Recent form: Not good. 14 defeats in 19 Tests going back to March 2006 is not exactly the sort of confidence-building run to inspire thoughts of retaining their world crown.

    Coach: Brian Ashton. The 61-year-old Lancastrian earned his reputation as an innovative attacking strategist during Bath's glory years and later as Sir Clive Woodward's assistant from 1998 to 2002. Returned to the England set-up last May and succeeded Andy Robinson in the top job in December.

    Captain: Phil Vickery. The son of a Devonian cattle farmer who learned his rugby in Cornwall, "The Raging Bull" has battled back from career-threatening back injuries to become Ashton's captain. A no-nonsense prop and World Cup winner four years ago, his bullocking runs can be inspirational.

    World Cup pedigree: Defending champions, and the first European team to win it. Lost in the final on home soil at Twickenham, 12-6 to Australia, in 1991; thrashed by a Jonah Lomu-inspired New Zealand in 1995 semis. Quarter-final defeats to Wales, in 1987, and South Africa, in 1999.

    World Cup high: Jonny Wilkinson's winning drop-goal, 26 seconds from the end of extra-time to clinch victory against Australia in the 2003 final, will take some beating.

    World Cup low: A few to choose from, but losing the 1991 final at Twickenham after changing the tactics that got them there, probably caused the most angst. Quarter-final defeat to Springboks in Paris in 1999 was another downer.

    World Cup legend: Jonny Wilkinson was the name on everyone's lips after the final four years ago. But the man who hoisted the Webb Ellis Trophy aloft in Sydney, then retired from international duty at the very top, would get the fans' vote. Martin Osborne Johnson, take a bow.

    Present star: Wilkinson missed the next 30 England Tests in the three years after the World Cup victory with a horrendous run of injury problems. His sensational return in this year's Six Nations opener against Scotland, when he scored 27 points in a 42-20 win, cemented Jonny's star quality.

    Maverick: The rise of scrum-half Shaun Perry, a former welder and self-confessed fan of fish 'n chips and a pint, from Dudley Kingswinford in the Midlands One League, via Coventry in National League One to Premiership Bristol, makes him a little different to most of his fellow Test colleagues.

    Enforcer: Simon Shaw missed out on many a Test cap due to the presence of Martin Johnson. But with the great "Johnno" long gone, and none of the young pretenders filling his boots, veteran Shaw's time may finally have come. At 6ft 9in and 19 stone, he certainly has the tools for the job.

    Strengths: It may not be the "Dad's Army" of 2003, but England's pack still contains enough grizzled old campaigners to provide a test for any set of forwards worth their salt. And Wilkinson's left boot remains a potent weapon.

    Weaknesses: Lack the creativity and flair to turn possession supplied by a revitalised pack into points. And still unsure of their best side, with concerns at centre and full-back.

    Did you know? Jonny Wilkinson, at 24, was the youngest member of England's World Cup-winning squad of 2003, a month younger than Iain Balshaw, also 24.

    World Cup base: Versailles (from 3 September)

    They say: "There is a belief that we can surprise one or two people when the tournament starts. We still have a positive attitude amongst the players."
    Brian Ashton

    You say: "If Ashton has a few tricks up his sleeve and the backs show any form of creativity, I think England stand a reasonable chance."
    bobcom on 606

    World ranking: 7

    Odds: 20/1

    Our verdict: Semi-finals would be laudable given their decline since 2003. But getting out of their group will be tough enough, and a quarter-final could be the end of the line.

    Ranking and odds correct at 26 August. Odds supplied by William Hill.

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