Leonard backs English challenge
Jason Leonard has backed England to reach the World Cup final if they can top the so-called 'Pool of Death'.
England have been drawn with Australia, Wales and Fiji for the group phase of the Rugby World Cup, which gets under way on September 18, and only two sides will progress to the quarter-final stage.
But Leonard, capped 113 times by England, believes the tricky draw could play into the host nation's hands later in the tournament.
"It is a hard pool, but by no means impossible," Leonard told Press Association Sport. "Of course, you have to take it one match at a time, but if England do top the group I think they will get to the final."
Stuart Lancaster's side, currently stationed in Denver for their high-altitude training camp, will avoid world champions New Zealand until the final at Twickenham on October 31, providing they top their pool.
Leonard added: "England will have played two hard games against world-class opposition in Australia and Wales so they will be battle-hardened by the time they get to the quarter-finals.
"Some teams won't have had that so you have to look at the positives."
Australia beat South Africa 24-20 in the opening match of the Rugby Championship on Saturday to send out a warning to their Pool A rivals.
But Leonard, part of England's World Cup winning squad in Australia 12 years ago, expects confidence to be high in the Red Rose camp.
"England have beaten Australia quite convincingly of late, and we have done the same with Wales," he added.
"We are at home so we should be pretty confident going into those games."
England will return from Denver in the coming days before preparing for their first warm-up game against France at Twickenham on August 15.
They face France in Paris one week later before hosting Ireland on September 5. Lancaster's side will then face Fiji in the tournament curtain-raiser on September 18.
"To train at altitude is notoriously very hard," added Leonard.
" You will see massive improvements because of it - the air is much thinner and it is much harder on the body - so it will put England in a very good position fitness wise for the World Cup.
"You have got to make the most of what you have got and it is a fantastic opportunity for the boys to get together as a squad, and as team.
"S omeone like Stuart Lancaster and his coaches are fantastic to their players, so when they have got a day off they encourage them to get away from the hotel and not to train.
"It is a long time together but it is a necessity - you want to be as best prepared as you possibly can be."