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Austin Healey: England should write off Fiji at their peril

| 18.09.2015

The wait for the World Cup to start is almost over and while much has been made of the so-called “group of death” England find themselves in, the hosts get their campaign underway with a winnable game against Fiji.

Ladbrokes have priced Stuart Lancaster’s men up at 1/66 to pick up a win over John McKee’s side but I think the game will be tougher than those odds suggest.

Fiji are no pushovers. They may lack structure but they are a side that is blessed with talent across the park. If England miss touch two or three times during the game it will play into Fiji’s hands.

England are the deserved favourites for the opening tie but they will need to make sure they get the ball clearly off the field to not give Fiji the opportunity to counter and distract them from their game.

Fiji may be a so-called weaker side in the tournament but they are above Scotland in the current world rankings and not too far behind Ireland and Wales so they are a real threat.

They’ve beaten Wales and drawn with solid teams in past World Cups and they are bringing a good squad over this time around.

That said, I still expect England to beat them and with the squad they have announced they stand a good chance of going on a deep run into the tournament.

Cipriani omission would have been an easy choice

There weren’t too many surprises when the squad, or indeed the team for the first game, was announced and while there has been some Hoorah Henry talk about the inclusion of Sam Burgess and his perceived lack of experience, I think he could prove a lot of people wrong.

Of course, he could prove a lot of people right but we’ll have to see what unfolds, he’s certainly there on merit though.

One thing is for sure though and that’s that he will bring bucket loads of energy from the bench.

A lot has been made about him supposedly returning to Australia to play Rugby League again but he’s quashed those rumours and will be focused on the task at hand.

Rugby players aren’t like footballers so what’s being written in the press, true or otherwise, won’t have any bearing on Sam’s ability to perform on the pitch.

I’m not totally convinced that England’s bench is strong enough though. If they lose Jonathan Joseph, who for me is England’s star player, I’m not sure who will move to outside centre.

I’d also liked to have seen Dylan Hartley and Manu Tuilagi in there but it wasn’t to be. The manager has made his decisions though so now it’s just a case of sitting back and watching how England get on.

One omission that attracted a few headlines was the decision to leave out Danny Cipriani but for me it would have been an easy decision to make.

It was a choice between Cipriani and Henry Slade and Lancaster clearly feels, like me, that the Exeter man is a better player.

He offers a lot more than Cipriani and can cover a few more positions too and while they have similar kicking games for me Slade shades it for both his attitude and his ability on the field.


George Ford has been given the nod to start at number 10 against Fiji and I think that shows he is now the first choice without a doubt. I think defensively Owen Farrell might just edge him but you could argue that the Saracens man hasn’t really played enough this year.

He’s had his fair share of injuries and needs a good run of games to compete for the number 10 jersey again. Ford is head and shoulders above the rest at present and beyond that you could even say that Slade is second choice.

Hosting will put pressure on England but ultimately it will help

Being hosts will add a certain level of pressure to England but playing in front of their own fans will ultimately be a blessing. To win the World Cup England just have to beat the top sides at Twickenham and with the exception of South Africa they have already done that.

That makes it sound easy and the pressure on a young squad could show but all in all you’d much rather be playing games over here than in the southern hemisphere, where it can be tougher in so many ways.

England have a mixed bag as while they have home comforts for the tournament they have been handed a tough group. Some people are complaining about the group of death but I’m really looking forward to it.

Big games from the off will make it more interesting as we’re now getting a knockout tournament before the knockout tournament. It makes it more intriguing for both the neutrals and for the guys supporting their own teams.

Wales can overcome their injury woes but Ireland are the side to watch

I still think Wales will be very strong despite their injury woes as they still have a solid pack. Half back might be a bit of an issue but Liam Williams will be good. It’s a shame we won’t get to see Eli Walker though as he’s an exciting runner.

Missing him, Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb is an obvious blow but I think they will be dangerous and could still get out of the group.

Out of all the odds out there though I think the 9/1 on Ireland is a great bet, especially if they get to the semi-finals and you can lay them, as the odds could drop significantly. I think they will get to the  final four at least.

Of all the Home Nations they have the easiest passage to the semis and if they don’t get at least that far it will be a complete disaster for them.

They’ve got a gentle build throughout the tournament, three easy matches to start and then France, so they can pick up some momentum. I’d be piling in at 9/1 as you’re only going to make money on Ireland at this World Cup.

Scotland will find it a little tougher and a semi-final for them would represent an enormous success. Getting out of the group wouldn’t even be a bad showing for the Scots and they have shown they can play great rugby for short periods. Extend how long they can sustain those periods though and they could be a real dark horse for the tournament.

Where’s my money going? On Zebo, Smith and Sexton

When looking for a top try scorer I think you have to focus on the teams that are going to be involved in some of the high scoring games.

If you look at Pool A the games will be tight whereas the other top sides with easier groups will score 80-90 points in some games.

With that in mind I think Simon Zebo looks great value at 33/1 and you could also pick any of the All Blacks’ wingers, with Ben Smith probably the pick of the bunch at 12/1.

As for top points scorer it think Jonathan Sexton is worth backing at 6/1. He’s closing in on 500 points for Ireland from 53 games and with Ireland set to reach the latter stages I’ll be backing him to come out on top.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Austin Healey

As a former England and British Lions star with experience playing in both the World Cup and Six Nations tournaments few people are better placed to pass comment on international rugby union. Read Austin's thoughts on the 2015 World Cup exclusively at Ladbrokes News.