Jonny Wilkinson believes England can win the Rugby World Cup but must first focus on negotiating a potentially tricky path to the semi-finals.
England will be expected to advance to the knockout stages from Pool C, where they are alongside France, Argentina, the United States and Tonga.
Australia or Wales will likely then await Eddie Jones’ men in the quarter-finals.
Wilkinson, who starred as England won the World Cup in 2003, reckons the current squad are capable of lifting the trophy in Japan, but suggests the difficulty of a last-eight tie cannot be downplayed.
“I think England can definitely go all the way,” Wilkinson, speaking on behalf of Land Rover, Official Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019, told Omnisport.
“I think the issue with the World Cup is, for me, there are three stages: the group stage, the quarter-finals and the end of it. That’s how it always broke down for me.
“The group stage is key – you’ve got to break out of it in good shape – then the quarter final is in that nasty place.
“You know, if you go out at the quarter-finals, it’s not good enough. But it’s such a big game and you play the big teams.
“The semi-final and final looks after itself. If they get to a semi, they’re good enough to ride that wave all the way. I think they’ll be so excited about it that they won’t let their chance slip.”
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England did not even get out of their pool on home turf four years ago, finishing behind Australia and Wales, and Wilkinson sees that tournament as an example of how tough the World Cup can be.
“I really do think that the World Cup four years ago was a huge amount of scrutiny going in, because it was a home World Cup and thus lots of expectation,” he said.
“It was a tough first game against Fiji, a good team, then a brilliant hour against Wales. Suddenly, things don’t go your way, you end up losing momentum and then you’re going into a must-win game against Australia, who are in fire.
“So it was never a million miles away and that’s unfortunately the ruthlessness of the World Cup.”
Wilkinson also highlighted the dangers of France and Argentina this year, with points – rather than performances – the only aim for England in those key group fixtures.
“A lot of teams you put in the favourites category, but these teams float around under the radar and are dangerous,” he said. “No-one has done more damage to people’s dreams than underdogs France.
“Unfortunately, they’re in England’s group and so, unfortunately, are Argentina. And France and Argentina have a very particular relationship when it comes to World Cup.
“It will be very interesting to see how that group shapes up, but for England it has to be pretty ruthless. It doesn’t matter how you do it, you’ve just got to make sure you’ve got the most points.”
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