England vs Ireland: World Cup starts here, says Graham Rowntree

The hosts’ warm-up programme is delicately balanced

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England are still in a good position to make home advantage count heavily in their favour at the World Cup, which is now less than a fortnight distant, but a Twickenham defeat at the hands of Ireland on Saturday afternoon will change perceptions at the worst moment. “The tournament starts here,” said Graham Rowntree, the red-rose forwards coach. No pressure then.

The hosts’ warm-up programme is delicately balanced: victory over France in London in the opening game – encouraging in the attacking sense, alarmingly poor in some of the close-quarter areas long considered to be a strength – was more than offset by a dire loss to the same opponents in Paris. If the first performance was semi-positive, the second was entirely negative.

According to Paul O’Connell, the Ireland captain, Twickenham remains a testing venue for visiting sides – even those who conduct regular Six Nations business on the old cabbage patch. “It’s a daunting venue, definitely,” he said. “I thought we’d landed a big punch on them when we last played there in 2014, but they showed their mental strength by coming through. That defeat was a big blow to us.”

Yet while no European side has won at Twickenham since Wales sneaked past England with a fortunate late try in February 2012, there have been too many bad days against the southern hemisphere superpowers to support any suggestion that a fortress has been successfully constructed. If things go wrong now, everyone will believe they can sack the place.