There are just five days to go before England open their World Cup campaign against the USA in Lens and coach Brian Ashton will be forgiven for feeling pretty nervous right now. With the way the tournament has been set-up, getting through this pool in tact is vital for England with their chances of progressing to the latter stages hinging on the game with South Africa.
Defeat there will probably see England drawn in the same half of the draw as Australia and New Zealand and Brian would certainly prefer that be avoided. While he will say that all minds are focused on the USA this Saturday, I wouldn't mind betting that the management, in particular, have one eye on the next game, against the Springboks. It's only natural.
No disrespects to the USA, but this should be a game where Brian can afford to tinker with his strongest line-up, somewhat, with South Africa in mind, although I believe that starting line-up on Saturday won't differ too much from the one which takes to the field at St Denis the following Friday.
Brian has six full days to prepare his side after the USA game and I think we'll see England go for broke, while making best use of the experience on the bench. I'm thoroughly looking forward to the next six weeks or so, we're certainly in for some fascinating encounters and top class rugby.
Even before the England game on Saturday, we're in for a treat. The tournament opener sees France take on Argentina in what could be a tricky game for the hosts. Playing first is never easy and all the pressure will be on the French to perform in their own back yard. Argentina, however, have some very good players and this will not be a forgone conclusion.
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