Maggie Alphonsi MBE won 74 caps for England as well as the 2014 World Cup. She gave Yahoo Sport UK her thoughts on England’s chances in Japan.
Thoughts on the squad?
I’d probably like a third no.9. Overall I think the squad is very strong, there are players with only a few caps so they might be a level of apprehension, but Eddie has picked players on form and paired them with experience. On the whole, I’m confident and the warm-up games have allowed the news guys step up. I still would have loved to have seen Danny Cipriani, maybe even Ben Te’o too.
There’s always worries. You don’t want your back-up cover starting as the same time as the first choice, like Owen Farrell and George Ford potentially. But Henry Slade can cover 10, maybe Piers Francis too. Farrell would be my starting 10, he offers variety in attack, but you see Ford recently and he’s been excellent. I hope they both don’t start against Tonga, but they’ll probably plan to pair them later in the tournament.
Most excited about?
Two things. Firstly, there is such a good combination of players in the back row. Sam Underhill and Tom Curry worked really well together. Australia and Wales have had two open sides and it worked and I think this pairing could flourish on the world stage.
I’m also excited about England’s power. Against Wales and Ireland Cokanasinga was running through players, then you add in Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi. It’s direct, it breaks tackles, it’s aggressive. Cokanasinga offers bulk in the backs aside from Tuilagi and when England bring him in off the scrum or short line it really works.
Our power has really become our style. Tuilagi offers that route one option and breaks tackles, no one else in centre really offers that. If Te’o was in, you might lack a bit of distribution, so I like the balance as it is. We always have the fear that Tuilagi will get injured at some point so fingers crossed he stays fit.
Most worried about?
Dan Cole and Kyle Sinkler are the only tight-heads. Marler can do it, but moving across and taking that extra weight and pressure is not a straight forward shift. Unless you play in that position you don’t really understand, but the added weight you have to take is huge. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I think it’s a concern.
And it’s the same with the scrum-halves. Eddie keeps saying this team is adaptable, with players being able to fill in. My experience going to World Cups is that you cover all potential possibilities, so there’s no way Eddie hasn’t thought about this a huge amount. It wouldn’t surprise me if Marler has been playing at tight-head and Ford at scrum-half in training sessions.
What constitutes success?
Winning it is success, Eddie has consistently said to judge him on that. For the public, getting out of the pool would be start after 2015. Because we know what this team is capable of, plus seeing what other England teams have done this summer in the cricket and football, there’s a bit of a buzz. That said, if they get to a semi-final and go out playing well to New Zealand then I still think people could accept that.
Faith in the coach?
I do. He’s been to several World Cups before and he’s speaking with confidence. I have faith in him and the coaching staff as a whole to be honest, particularly John Mitchell. I think their defence have really stepped up in the last Six Nations and gone to another level.
Maro Itoje didn’t stand out that much in the Six Nations and recently he’s looked incredible, a lot of players have gone up – I feel like they’re peaking at the right time. You still want to see things that need to be worked out, but that they can tweaked as they go forward. I lost the Six Nations in the year I won the World Cup - that helped us, it meant we could fine tune things.
How far will they go?
I think they have the ability to make it to the final but I’ve made a few calculations and I think they’ll meet the All Blacks in the semi-final. I think they’ll fall just short.
Who will contest the final, and who will win?
South Africa are a real force at the moment. I think they’ll meet Ireland in the quarters and beat them. Based on what I’ve seen of the Springboks I think they could well go all the way.
If you asked me a year ago I’d have put three northern hemisphere teams in the quarters. But South Africa have changed their management, changed their coach and as long as they don’t have more disruptions I think they’ll go all the way. Against Ireland, and most teams for that matter, they’ll just be too physical and too big.
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