x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

England rugby union side have no option but to go fourth

Defeat to Australia has put pressure on the former world champions to win against South Africa and New Zealand to maintain their ranking.

England, in purple, were beaten by Australia last week which could affect their ranking. Tom Hevezi / AP Photo
England, in purple, were beaten by Australia last week which could affect their ranking. Tom Hevezi / AP Photo

It was a comment from a former England captain that highlighted the lack of understanding surrounding these autumn Test internationals.

Among the debris of England's 20-14 loss to Australia at Twickenham last week, Lewis Moody, the Rugby World Cup-winning player, took to Twitter to soothe the pain that his near 60,000 flock was experiencing. "There is far too much negativity after yesterday's loss," he wrote. "Yes we lost but for this team it is learning for 2015. Young side must grow together."

A comment from a former player is one thing, but they echoed the sentiments of Danny Care, England's scrum-half, during the post-match interviews. "We're not going to be world-beaters tomorrow," he said. "Hopefully, in three years' time we will be."

The England camp need to wise up quickly ahead of tomorrow's clash with South Africa in London. If they do not win tomorrow, winning the 2015 Rugby World Cup will become significantly more difficult. By losing to a beatable Australia side, England now have very little hope of regaining fourth spot in the International Rugby Board's world rankings. Only once every four years do theses rankings actually carry any relevance, but if England cannot beat South Africa or New Zealand over the next two weeks they are destined to start their own World Cup with a southern hemisphere superpower lurking in the same pool. The draw, based on the rankings, is made on December 3.

A difficult pool at the World Cup is not an insurmountable hurdle. In 2007, the eventual winners South Africa were drawn with England, while New Zealand and France were drawn together last year before clashing once again in the final.

In three years squads can change dramatically. Stuart Lancaster has named a XV tomorrow in which only Chris Robshaw, the captain, Toby Flood, the fly-half, and the wing Mike Brown made their debuts before 2010.

England's lack of experience showed last week. Lancaster needs to look at the template showcased by the Wallabies, who a week before were rudderless in a 33-6 defeat to France. They lacked leadership due to their best players missing out on the tour through injury but learnt from their mistakes and put in a streetwise performance at Twickenham. England must do the same this afternoon.

England need to beat South Africa by fewer than 15 points, and for France to lose to Samoa in Paris tonight by the same margin, simply to draw level in the rankings with Philippe Saint-Andre's side. England then face the All Blacks next week, when defeat would see them drop out of that cherished spot.

Lancaster may seek solace, like every England manager since 2004, the post-Sir Clive Woodward era, in the mantra of progression rather than one favouring immediate success. That approach has put England in a very difficult position.

England's record against the three southern hemisphere superpowers of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa now stands at one victory against seven losses since 2007. England have not beaten South Africa in 10 matches, including three this year.

The Rugby Football Union has secured a second World Cup tournament, following the 1991 event that England lost to Australia in the final. It seems, however, that the executives have been let down by the players and coach once more following the World Cup debacle.

They cannot afford to take these matches over the next two weeks so lightly. They must win.

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