Rugby World Cup 2015: Lewis Moody expresses England concerns
World Cup winner Lewis Moody runs rule over England's prospects ahead of this month's tournament
The Rugby World Cup may be just over two weeks away, but former England skipper and member of the victorious class of 2003, Lewis Moody, admits Stuart Lancaster’s side are still far from the finished article.
Lancaster named his squad of 31 players last week; it included international rookies Sam Burgess and Henry Slade that will aim to become the fourth side to lift the Webb Ellis Cup on home soil.
But after a disappointing showing in the 25-20 loss to France a fortnight ago, the pressure is mounting on the Red Rose to deliver a performance worthy of champions-elect this weekend in their final warm-up fixture with Ireland at Twickenham.
England want to be contesting in that final, but to get there they’ve got to beat a lot of good teams and they won’t come much harder than in the Pools against Wales and Australia
Moody, who famously won the final line-out in the phase of play that led to Jonny Wilkinson’s winning drop-goal in 2003, believes that now selection is finalised England have to focus all their attention on emerging from the pool stages.
And the 37-year-old is looking forward to seeing an improved England set-piece against the Irish as well as which combination Lancaster selects to line up in the centres.
“It’s impossible to compare the squad of 2003 with the current England team as they are a completely different group of individuals in totally different eras,” said Moody, who is a Jaguar Land Rover Academy of Sport Ambassador.
“But I think the key question is whether this England side are where they want to be at the moment?
“I’d probably say the answer to that is no, after a disappointing defeat against France and with a set-piece that certainly is not functioning as they’d like.
“There’s a bit of indecision in terms of some of the selections and who fits where – like where is Sam Burgess or Henry Slade meant to fit into the wider spectrum of that midfield – so there’s a lot of questions still, and going into a World Cup is a tough time to have to be answering them.
“But I went through two campaigns; one of which we won and one of which we made it to the final and lost, and we were in dire straits heading into that one.
“So all that matters in the immediate future for this group is getting out of the Pool. Once you’ve managed that you are in a very strong position and can just deal with each game as it comes.
“England want to be contesting in that final, but to get there they’ve got to beat a lot of good teams and they won’t come much harder than in the Pools against Wales and Australia.”
A back-row legend for England, Moody played in three Rugby World Cups and like current skipper Chris Robshaw captained the side wearing the No.7 jersey.
And while Robshaw’s position is all but nailed on, Moody is still not certain who will be joining him at the base of the scrum.
He added: “Who will play at No.6 is actually a really difficult question, as I think at the moment you’ve got one guy that is really sticking his hand up in James Haskell and saying, ‘I deserve that shirt’.
“I think you have to go on form, and Tom Wood’s been great over the last couple of seasons and there’s no doubt he is a massive lineout presence – probably more so than James.
“But James is offering more to the team at the minute, as he’s a natural ball-winner, aggressive over the ball, aggressive in the way he carries it, and aggressive in the tackle. That’s what we want in the back row.
“You’ve then got Ben Morgan and Billy Vunipola battling it out at No.8, and I think Vunipola probably has the edge over Morgan because Morgan has been injured for so long.
“I’ve not seen enough of Ben Morgan at the moment, and Vunipola has obviously lost a lot of excess weight and looks a lot fitter for me.
“The game he had against France wasn’t his best obviously, and those two going hammer and tongs to try and nail down that No.8 shirt will be good for each of them and ultimately good for the side.”
Lewis Moody was speaking on behalf of the Jaguar Land Rover Academy of Sport workshop programme in partnership with SportsAid. For more information please visit SportsAid.org.uk