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Neil Jenkins backs England to handle pressure as World Cup hosts

Published 17/09/2015

Dan Biggar has been backed to relish main goalkicking responsibility for Wales at the World Cup
Dan Biggar has been backed to relish main goalkicking responsibility for Wales at the World Cup

Neil Jenkins believes England will "work ways out" to deal with the pressure and expectation that accompanies being a World Cup host nation.

England kick off the tournament against Fiji at Twickenham on Friday, and former Wales star Jenkins knows from personal experience that host nation status brings a different dimension.

Wales were principal World Cup hosts 16 years ago, launching the competition against Argentina in Cardiff, and Jenkins said: "I certainly felt it (pressure) back in 1999.

"We were the host nation and we had had a pretty good year, so there was a fair bit of pressure on ourselves. There was a lot expected of us and Argentina, who we played first, as they were a pretty good side as well.

"It was a strange day, if I remember rightly. The whole day, with the opening ceremony and not being able to go out on to the pitch and warm up our kicks before the game, meant it was different.

"We had to warm up inside and do things a bit differently, but it was a huge occasion. It was a tough, physical game, but one we managed to get through."

Fiji are unlikely to be fazed by what awaits them on Friday night, then Wales are next up for England eight days later in a first major 2015 World Cup showdown.

"There will certainly be a lot of pressure on England, that's for sure," added former Wales fly-half Jenkins, who amassed more than 1,000 points during his Test career.

"They are the home nation and they are expected to do well, so there is a huge amount of pressure on them, without doubt. There was on us in 1999.

"But you live to deal with that. England are a very good side, and I am sure they will work ways out to minimise the pressure on themselves.

"But again, you cannot hide from the fact that you are the home nation, you are expected to do well and teams want to knock you off, and that is something we will be hoping to do."

Jenkins, meanwhile, has backed Dan Biggar to relish the role of Wales' principal World Cup goalkicker.

Biggar will step up as first-choice marksman after Leigh Halfpenny - scorer of more than 500 points in 62 Tests - was ruled out of the tournament by a serious knee injury suffered during Wales' final World Cup warm-up game against Italy 12 days ago.

But Jenkins, who has worked closely with both players during their rise through the ranks, believes that fly-half Biggar offers a seamless transition.

"We have lost one of the best (goalkickers) in Leigh Halfpenny, but between him and Dan it is probably touch and go between them anyway," Wales assistant coach and kicking specialist Jenkins said.

"Leigh took over the (Wales) kicking four years ago and deserves his place as one of the best in the world, if not the best. Dan is incredibly close, if not on a par with him.

"We are very lucky in that regard to have someone like Dan to come in and be able to do the job that he does with the Ospreys week in, week out, and do a very good job for us.

"Dan has matured into a world-class 10, and that shows in the way he is performing and conducts himself on the pitch. Any 10 in any side is generally the leader and who the players look to, and he has certainly given us that.

"He knows the patterns inside out and the way we want to play the game, and he understands the game.

"Some 10s in the past like myself would lose the plot and all control. Dan does not do that and is in control of every game, and his all-round game is superb at this point in time."

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