England expects good run in Rugby World Cup
WILL England rise to the occasion, or be weighed down by the expectation of home fans?
That's the biggest question facing the team which goes into the World Cup as second favourite behind defending champions, the All Blacks.
And part of the answer may be provided tomorrow morning when the hosts kick off the tournament in a fascinating clash against a dangerous Fiji at Twickenham.
Renowned for their broken-field running, Fiji will look to the likes of giant Crusaders winger Nemani Nadolo to overpower the England defence.
No doubt their No.1 target will be diminutive fly-half George Ford, who bristled at suggestions his stature would be a liability.
"I practise my defence week in and week out," he said. "I am smaller than most lads on the pitch, but I don't feel threatened by it.
"There are parts to rugby that aren't necessarily about being big and powerful. There's the mental side of it - being a bit smarter, a bit cleverer, a bit quicker ... having a feel for the game."
Winger Anthony Watson will also be in the firing line, acknowledging the threat players such as Nadolo would pose. But he said England was planning to give as good as it got on the try-scoring front.
"Across the board in the back line, Fiji have game breakers," Watson said. "They're all big blokes, they all have good footwork, and it means that, defensively speaking, we'll have to be on the money. But while there has to be a sense of balance and a focus on implementing our game plan, we definitely want to get our hands on the ball and perform."
Indeed that's what the team has been doing in recent months with Ford calling the shots. In its last 10 games, England has lost the try count only once - against Ireland at the mid-point of the Six Nations.
"We've worked hard as a team to bring a bit more width to our attack, to create more opportunities," Ford said. "The back three are seeing a lot more of the ball and there's a massive potency there. The threat Anthony (Watson) and Jonny (May) bring with their speed, their footwork and their finishing… you've seen it in the last few matches."
England may be the hottest of favourites to open the tournament with a win, but as Fiji showed in its comprehensive victory over Canada just 11 days ago, given time and space, players such as Nadolo, fellow winger Vereniki Goneva, halfback Niko Matawalu and lock Leone Nakawara can cause havoc.
Coach John McKee said the team's preparation would stand it in good stead.
"We know we'll have to be at our best," he said. "But if we are, we can challenge England. The core of the team has been together since June last year and we've been building all that time."
ENGLAND V FIJI
At Twickenham, 5am tomorrow (AEST)