England on the rucks?

WORRIED: England's Brian Ashton. Pic. Matt Dunham. 28/09/07. © AP.
WORRIED: England's Brian Ashton. Pic. Matt Dunham. 28/09/07. © AP.

Reigning champions England's hopes of reaching the World Cup quarterfinals rests solely on the result of tomorrow's clash with Tonga.

Reigning champions England's hopes of reaching the World Cup quarterfinals rests solely on the result of tomorrow's clash with Tonga.

If they win at the Parc des Princes they go through to a last eight match with Australia in Marseille on October 6. Lose and instead it will be the Pacific Islanders who will be up against the Wallabies, with England the first titleholders not to reach the knockout phase.

Defeat by South Africa was always likely for an England side that had been beaten in its previous three outings against the Springboks but few foresaw a 0-36 reverse - the Red Rose's record World Cup loss.

Tonga though upset the odds to beat Pacific rivals Samoa 19-15 and then, albeit against a second string South Africa, only went down 25-30 on Saturday.

That same day England beat Samoa 44-22 in a match where their lead was cut to four points before they pulled away in the closing 10 minutes.

"We are still looking down the barrel of a gun," England coach Brian Ashton said on Tuesday as he unveiled his side.

Injury-plagued outside-half Jonny Wilkinson, after being sat on the sidelines for England's first two matches, marked his first World Cup appearance since kicking the winning drop-goal in the 2003 final with a 24 point haul against Samoa.

Wilkinson, likely to make Tonga pay for any indiscipline, now needs just 22 more points to surpass Scotland great Gavin Hastings's World Cup record of 227.

But his kicking out of hand, in common with his team-mates', was far less impressive and Ashton admitted this was an area ripe for improvement. - Sapa-AFP

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