A week is not a long time to wait to return to the scene of a crime. If you believe the words that have been coming out of the England camp, then Stuart Lancaster and his men are focused on one thing only, and that is the do-or-die clash with Australia at Twickenham on Saturday.
But Australia have reasons to be haunted by demons of their own at the English home of rugby. On their most recent visit, in November of last year, they were destroyed up front, losing 26-17, with much of the damage inflicted by the man of the match that day, England’s No 8 Ben Morgan, who will return to the side on Saturday.
They are demons he does not intend to let rest.
“It is such a confrontational part of the game,” he says. “Particularly scrum-time, it’s like an all-eight battle, and when you are on the wrong end of it, they’ll definitely have doubts in their mind.
“You want to go in there strong, put a statement down early, and allow those demons to grow.”
To do that, Morgan and the rest will have to contend with Australia and arguably world rugby’s most potent threat, lying on the other side of the scrummage: Michael Hooper and David Pocock.
“Pocock and Hooper are great over the ball,” Morgan said, “which definitely means we have to focus extra hard there and work harder at preventing them from being successful, trying to take away their strength. If we can nullify their ability to get over the ball it will change the way they have to play as well. They like to disrupt, slow people down. But if we can get quick ball, it will change the pattern.”
One thing that has helped England move on is the knowledge that now, Saturday’s match means everything. Lose and, barring a miracle, England will be out of their own World Cup at the group stage. Unthinkable, but hardly unforeseeable now.
“The pressure is great,” Morgan added. “We’ve had to pull in tighter as a group, and you have to re-focus very quickly in this competition.
“We focused on what we need to do against Australia, drawn a line under last weekend and stepped over it.
“The feeling in the group is that everyone is excited at the prospect of getting back out on the pitch quickly after last Saturday.”
Last November, Australia were in crisis with scandals over sexist text messaging and, in the end, the departure of the manager. But those days are long gone, and in Michael Cheika, the savviest yet plainest speaking coach in the business, they are a team transformed.
“Yes, they have certainly improved,” Morgan said. “But we are confident going into it. Our set-piece in particular was good and I believe Australia will definitely be concerned after reviewing our game against Wales.
“Other teams might have a massive driving lineout game or a huge kicking game. I don’t believe we have a set style, I think we are able to adapt.”
That might be true. It needs to be true. Or they will have to adapt to life on the sofa, spectators at the party in their own back garden.Reuse content