Is it time for England fans to be realistic and understand their chances of claiming the World Cup title in 2015 are pretty slim?
This isn’t a case of writing England off before the tournament has even begun, after all it is the World Cup, and particularly when it reaches the knock-out stages anything can happen. However, maybe it’s time to reign in expectations, and understand that perhaps the 2015 World Cup has come just a couple of years too early for the current England squad.
One of the biggest concerns for Stuart Lancaster must be the lack of international experience in his squad. When he first took over, he spoke of wanting to build a key leadership group of players with at least 50 caps to their name heading into the World Cup. What we have instead is a young team packed full of potential but lacking that experience.
There are of course experienced heads in the team, however they are few and far between, especially when it comes to prior World Cup experience. You of course have a few in there including the likes of Ben Youngs and James Haskell, however there are not many names in the current squad with the requisite 50 caps.
In contrast, the All Blacks can call on the experience of players like Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu, whilst the Springboks can look to the likes of Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers. Even England’s pool opponents Australia can call on the experience of Stephen Moore, Matt Giteau, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Drew Mitchell.
In fairness to Stuart Lancaster, no blame can lie with him for these issues. After the 2011 World Cup England were in a shambles with star players under-performing, and many of the teams elder-statesmen opting to end their international careers, thus leaving Lancaster with a huge re-building job on his hands.
He has also had to deal with a number of disciplinary issues meaning several star players have been dropped. Manu Tuilagi is a loss, however Lancaster would have been banking on Dylan Hartley to provide some much needed experience in the pack. Instead he now faces having to take an uncapped hooker as his third choice option.
There is however hope for England, as we saw during the Six Nations. If they can get out of their pool at the World Cup, then this team has demonstrated they are capable of winning games, and scoring tries for fun. The likes of Anthony Watson, George Ford and Jonathan Joseph are capable of running rings around defenders, whilst the pack can grind it out up front.
The issue though is, do these players have the experience and mental toughness to stand up to an oncoming onslaught from a full strength All Blacks side. Recent history would suggest no with England struggling in the opening exchanges of recent internationals, although they have shown an ability to battle back in the latter stages of games.
You can’t help but feel though, that had this World Cup come two years later, the current crop of England players would have had the requisite blend of talent and experience to ensure they are genuine contenders for the World Cup. As is, whatever happens England fans must support their side, and in particular Head Coach Stuart Lancaster as he is building something special ahead of the 2019 World Cup.