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Importance of Australia game not lost on England head coach Stuart Lancaster

Published 01/10/2015

England centre Jonathan Joseph has been passed fit for Saturday's match against Australia
England centre Jonathan Joseph has been passed fit for Saturday's match against Australia

Stuart Lancaster is aware of the potential repercussions if England fail to save their World Cup when they meet old foes Australia in Saturday's defining showdown at Twickenham.

The nation's biggest match since the 2007 final and their most meaningful encounter at the home of English rugby for 24 years will see the future of captain, coaching team and union chief executive placed in doubt should the Wallabies prevail.

World Cup oblivion awaits if England lose for a second time in a fiercely competitive Pool A to become the first host nation to exit the tournament at the group stage, a fate made possible by the 28-25 loss to Wales.

Lancaster has welcomed the support he has had from the Rugby Football Union - "unlike in 2011 when there was not a lot of leadership" - and revealed chief executive Ian Ritchie has been a regular visitor to the squad's Surrey training camp.

But while the visit of Australia is dominating the 45-year-old Cumbrian's thoughts, he understands that a pivotal moment will unfold on Saturday night.

"We're obviously aware of what is at stake - you don't have to be a rocket scientist to work it out," Lancaster said.

"The fact is that if we don't win on Saturday then we won't go through from the pool stage.

"Of course that has preyed on my mind. That scenario has preyed on my mind from the minute the draw was made.

"I understand the consequences, I understand the accountability and responsibility for delivering in this World Cup, 100 per cent. There's no hiding away from it

"There's not been any further conversation about the ramifications of defeat or victory. Ian Ritchie knows and I know that all we've got to do is focus on Saturday.

"If the head coach starts thinking too much about what might happen in the future - or the past - then I can't get the players in the right place and that's the only thing that's important to me."

Number eight Ben Morgan and lock Joe Launchbury start up-front, benefiting from injuries to Billy Vunipola and Courtney Lawes, but once again the biggest talking point from Thursday's team announcement rested on the midfield.

Jonathan Joseph is restored at outside centre after recovering from a pectoral muscle injury, Brad Barritt moves back to his preferred position in the number 12 jersey, Owen Farrell continues at fly-half and Sam Burgess drops to the bench in another shake-up.

Farrell impressed against Wales, but there is still a sense of puzzlement over why George Ford has been demoted to a replacement's role despite being first choice conductor for the last 12 months.

"Owen Farrell's performance against Wales was excellent. He gave us what we were looking for - his defensive strength and qualities but his kicking game was excellent," Lancaster said.

"There's a black and white assumption people have made that if George Ford plays we play fantastic, creative, attacking rugby and when Owen Farrell plays we don't. I don't subscribe to that view personally.

"The try that we scored against Wales was a good try and all the backs had a part to play in that.

"Owen played in the Six Nations in 2014 and we scored 14 tries and played good rugby then."

Lancaster sounded a note of defiance as he spoke for the final time before Saturday's seismic showdown.

"I can't ever think of a time with this team when their spirit has been broken," he said.

"I've seen games when we've lost by three, five, six points, been disappointed with ourselves or our decisions, but we've always come back and delivered.

"I know the character of the team, I know the characters in the team and I know we've been in this position before, come out the other side and won.

"The picture would be completely different on Saturday night after a win. The old analogy that a week is a long time in sport is absolutely true in this case."

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