England must make a prompt improvement if they are to put themselves in a good place from which to mount a challenge for the next Rugby World Cup, which they will host, according to Lawrence Dallaglio.
The World Cup-winning No 8 and former captain knows as much as any England player of the post-war era about what it takes to make things happen at international level. "We can sit here and talk about England's prospects in 2015 but the key thing initially is what happens over the next 12 matches," said Dallaglio, who will perform an ambassadorial role for the tournament organisers. "The draw will be made late this year and seedings will be based on the rankings as they stand after the autumn Tests. As things stand, we're outside the top four, as we were last time. Then, we were lucky to be drawn in a pool with Argentina. We may not be so fortunate this time.
"England's first game of the Six Nations is against Scotland in Edinburgh next month, and Murrayfield is never easy. But it's a critical fixture because defeat will make the prospect of playing a strong Wales team a difficult one, even at Twickenham – let alone going to Paris to play France.
"It's crucial England go into it remembering they're champions. It'll be tough for them to win the title again but, if the anger and humiliation felt by those who didn't capitalise on their opportunities in New Zealand can be harnessed, it could be interesting."
Dallaglio also backed the Northampton flanker Tom Wood to take on the captaincy. "Wood is just ahead of Chris Robshaw of Harlequins for me, simply because he's been around the England scene a little more," he said. There will be no announcement on leadership tomorrow, when the caretaker coach Stuart Lancaster will name his 32-man squad.
When England stages the eighth Rugby World Cup in 2015, the country will do well to make the most of it. "The tournament won't return here for a long time," pronounced Mike Miller, managing director of the limited company that governs the sport's biggest jamboree. But how successful will it be if the country is still up to its eyeballs in austerity, with the national team still in pieces? Already, contingency plans are being made.
Paul Vaughan, chief executive of the organisation charged with delivering a tournament that must generate £80m for the International Rugby Board before a penny of profit is pumped back into the domestic game – and whose sums are based, unnervingly, on an average gate of 58,000 spectators across 48 matches – confirmed yesterday that the Treasury had agreed to underwrite part of the IRB guarantee. "We hope we won't have to call on them, but they'll come in if necessary," Vaughan said.
One of three full-time employees currently working towards 2015 from newly refurbished headquarters in Twickenham – come kick-off, the staff will be in three figures – CEO Vaughan acknowledged that the project's chances of hitting its targets rather depended on England putting last year's dismal World Cup performance behind them. "England doing well will help us a huge amount," he said. "We think the Rugby Football Union will do a fantastic job in getting itself back to where it should be. We're also assuming the England team will soon be back on a reasonably good track."