Inside England's SHAMBOLIC Rugby World Cup build-up

Inside England’s SHAMBOLIC Rugby World Cup build-up: Bans for Farrell and Vunipola, injuries to Van Poortvliet and Watson… and Danny Cipriani’s explosive autobiography (never mind five defeats in six!)

  • England’s World Cup campaign kicks off against Argentina on Saturday night
  • Steve Borthwick’s side have had a string of off-field issues to contend with 
  • While on the pitch, England are going through an ill-timed miserable run of form 
  • Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results

It has been a far from ideal preparation for England heading into the Rugby World Cup – anything that could go wrong has gone wrong.  

Steve Borthwick’s side kick-start their tournament against Argentina against a backdrop of injuries, bans, rotten form and Danny Cipriani’s comments on the squad and coaching staff of recent years in his explosive autobiography. 

Following a humbling first-ever loss to Fiji, Owen Farrell said that a number of ‘open and honest’ conversations have taken place, with Danny Care suggesting the players have ‘grabbed hold’ of responsibility over the past few days.

But for a side that reached the final four years ago in Japan, it would seem like a miracle for them to be crowned world champions on October 28 – or even reach the semi-finals.  

Fortunately for Steve Borthwick’s side they have been given perhaps the easiest pool in the tournament but they go into Saturday’s clash with Argentina as underdogs while Samoa are another side who could pose problems. So it might not be quite the simple task to reach the quarter-finals as many would have felt when the draw came out.  

Steve Borthwick has remained positive in public heading into the World Cup despite England losing seven of their last 12 matches since they last played Argentina back in November

England go into their opener against Argentina as slight underdogs due to their struggles

A number of key players will be absent for Borthwick’s side for the start of the tournament.

In the case of starting scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet and winger Anthony Watson, they will miss out entirely due to tournament-ending injuries. 

Van Poortvliet was left ‘devastated’ after an accidental collision with Ollie Lawrence during their 19-17 victory over Wales at Twickenham last month left him requiring ankle surgery.

The 22-year-old established himself as England’s first choice scrum half after starting all five Six Nations Tests earlier this year. 

His departure means Alex Mitchell has joined Ben Youngs and Care as the three number nines in Steve Borthwick’s 33-man squad with the Northampton No 9 getting the nod against Argentina.

Watson meanwhile was ruled out of the World Cup after picking up a calf injury during their defeat by Ireland. 

England will be without starting scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet, who suffered an ankle injury

Owen Farrell’s red card for a challenge on Taine Basham was rescinded, only for that decision to later be overturned following an appeal by World Rugby

Farrell (left) will miss England’s first two games, while Billy Vunipola (right) will also miss the Argentina clash after he was given a red card for a high tackle of his own

Tom Curry, who missed the entire warm-up programme, has been thrown straight in against Argentina – more than three months since his last match – in order to plug a hole in England’s leaky defence.  

His return is a risk, but perhaps one worth taking given Borthwick’s side have conceded 30 tries in nine games. 

England will be without captain and fly-half Farrell and No 8 Vunipola for the start of the competition after both were handed suspensions for high tackles.

Farrell will sit out the games against Argentina and Japan eight days later, while Vunipola will only miss the Argentina fixture. 

While there has not been too much fuss raised over Vunipola, there was huge controversy surrounding Farrell’s red card. 

His red card for a high tackle on Wales’ Taine Basham was rescinded by an independent judicial committee – sparking huge uproar in the rugby community.

Mail Sport columnist and 2003-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward branded the game a ‘laughing stock’ while a number of current players claimed the outcome was a ‘joke’.

In a saga that lasted ten days, World Rugby successfully appealed the decision to overturn his red card, with the appeal committee stating that his tackle was ‘always illegal’. 

Eddie Jones (left) denied claims from Danny Cipriani (right) that he had asked him about his sex life with former girlfriend and TV personality Kirsty Gallacher

Cipriani claimed Jones allegedly asked questions of a sexual nature about Gallacher

There have been further distractions off the pitch, even by players from the past.   

Cipriani claimed that Farrell and George Ford were part of a leadership group that led the 2015 World Cup team like a ‘mafia’.

In his autobiography, ‘Who Am I?’ he claimed the pair along with Youngs, Chris Robshaw, Dan Cole and others were ‘always scheming’. 

Though he said that he got along with those players – the comments don’t paint a picture of complete harmony in the camp of that 2015 World Cup squad which will leave people wondering if the same can be said of the 2023 group. 

Farrell addressed those claims as he responded to a journalist: ‘I have seen what you are talking about. I don’t even know what to say, to be honest. I know Danny has got a book coming out so hopefully that goes well for him.’

Cipriani in his book also revealed that he used to sleep with three women a day and claimed that Borthwick’s predecessor Eddie Jones asked about his sex life with ex-girlfriend and TV presenter Kirsty Gallacher. 

Jones, who is now in charge of Australia, has denied those claims insisting they are ‘f***ing nonsense’ and ‘absurd fabrication’. 

Despite all of those distractions going into the tournament, the one big concern Borthwick will have is their form. 

Since losing to Argentina at Twickenham in November, England have lost a further seven out of their last 12 matches – with five losses in their last six.

A 30-22 loss to Fiji, their first ever defeat to the Pacific Island nation, offers perhaps the biggest concern that England might struggle to get out of their group – despite it arguably being the easiest pool they could have fallen into. 

Borthwick though has insisted that he has full faith in his Test coaching set-up and that they will persist with their current tactics.

England suffered their first ever defeat to Fiji in their final game before the World Cup

England were beaten finalists in Japan but it would take a huge turnaround going off their recent form to reach the final again in France on October 28

England have been criticised for their statistics-based game plan that places a high emphasis on kicking. 

Despite outside concerns, Borthwick is convinced England have the firepower to make an impact at the World Cup.

‘I look at this team and see the likes of Ellis Genge, Joe Marler, Owen Farrell, Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje… the list could go on,’ Borthwick said.

‘We’ve got players who know how to perform on the biggest occasions and that’s one of the central things we need to do this Saturday – perform together.

‘We’re going against a really good Argentina side, potentially the best Argentinian side in their history.

‘So we know that’s a challenge but it’s one the boys can’t wait to get involved in.

‘I can’t stress enough, coming to Le Touquet, being here – the World Cup’s really now begun. This is it. We are in it.’

Despite his outward confidence, even Borthwick would admit it would take a huge turnaround for England to click into gear at the biggest stage and make a run for the trophy which they last won two decades ago.  

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