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England's rugby world cup bid begins

4th September 2007

England's short hop from London to Paris took 75 minutes yesterday, barely time to sample British Airways' specially chosen mixed nuts let alone ponder the challenges ahead. The players will have to wait until today to discover the starting XV to face the United States on Saturday but there already exists a steely intent to delay their return journey for as long as possible.

To judge from the captain Phil Vickery's parting words, in fact, there is little chance of England giving up the Webb Ellis Trophy lightly. Vickery is fully aware that emulating his 2003 captain Martin Johnson's achievement will be tough but has promised his squad will not take a backward step. "I don't want to be remembered as the captain who had to give the trophy back," he admitted yesterday before posing for obligatory farewell photos on the steps of an aircraft renamed Hope and Glory for the occasion.

The view that England are not a million miles away from re-establishing themselves as a world force is echoed by the entire squad, the only variables being the precise time scale and the method involved. The Leicester lock Ben Kay yesterday brushed aside unflattering comparisons between England's recent forward-orientated approach and the popular perception of New Zealand.

Good fortune with injuries will also play a part and England could do with Simon Shaw making a swift recovery from an infected chin. The Wasps second-row has been given antibiotics to counter the swelling which has gained him the nickname "Jimmy Hill" and forced him to sport a goatee. As things stand, he is still expected to be available for the United States game in Lens. Martin Corry is also determined to train today after intensive treatment on a left knee strain; in the event of both he and Shaw suffering a setback, England would be down to two specialist locks in Kay and Steve Borthwick.

Nevertheless, the former England coach Andy Robinson has tipped his former team as "certain" semi-finalists and the inclusion of World Cup winners such as Lawrence Dallaglio and Mike Catt today will prompt more patriotic tub-thumping.

Coverage of the world cup on ITV  is led by Jim Rosenthal and ex-England player Martin Bayfield, aided by experts such as Martin Johnson and All Blacks legend Sean Fitzpatrick.

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