Image:Rugby Union – England Training – AJ Bell Stadium – 8/10/15Henry Slade of England during trainingAction Images via Reuters / Henry BrowneLivepic
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – What could and should have been a rousing finale, where a win or a Six Nations-style chase for 50 points would send England into the World Cup quarter-finals, is now not even the biggest rugby match in Manchester on Saturday.
England take on Uruguay in the final game of Pool A with nothing at stake except pride and the opportunity for some fringe players to enhance their reputations.
Yet if Chris Robshaw had opted for a shot at goal, and Owen Farrell had landed it, to secure a draw with Wales instead of a 28-25 defeat two weeks ago, England might still have been alive and kicking in the group of death even after being well beaten by Australia.
A Wallabies win over Wales, or even a draw, at Twickenham on Saturday would have left the door open for England when they concluded group proceedings a few hours later at Manchester City’s stadium.
For the thousands of fans who have paid hundreds of pounds for a rare glimpse of the national team in the north of the country, that “what if” question will remain the night’s major talking point — along with rugby league’s grand final taking place across the city at Old Trafford two hours earlier.
England’s coaches and players, of course, will have to bury such thoughts and they have spent the week trying to convince the world, and probably themselves, that this is a game from which they can extract some small consolation from the wreckage of the country’s first pool-stage exit.
“We have to come out and wear the white shirt with pride and put in a good performance.” lock Joe Launchbury said.
Head coach Stuart Lancaster has made nine changes from the team beaten by Australia, with an exciting looking backline featuring George Ford, Owen Farrell, Henry Slade, Jack Nowell, Anthony Watson and Alex Goode, with Jonathan Joseph on the bench.
Feeding them will be scrumhalf Danny Care, making his first Rugby World Cup appearance after a broken foot ruled him out in 2011.
“I’d say there are about four number 10s out there,” Care said.
“There are some fantastic ball players, who have been brilliant in training, so we’re going to throw the ball around — though we know for sure that our fundamentals have to be right.”
Uruguay suffered heavy defeats in their first three games, but their attitude and remarkable fitness for a largely amateur team has won them many admirers.
“They are very proud to play for their country, so if we decide to run the ball from everywhere we will make life difficult for ourselves,” Lancaster warned.
The only previous meeting between the teams came in the 2003 World Cup, when England won 111-13 en route to lifting the trophy.
A repeat of that scoreline is unlikely, given Uruguay’s improvement since then. A repeat is World Cup triumph, thanks in part to Robshaw’s moment of madness two weeks ago, is of course impossible.
England: 1-Mako Vunipola, 2-Tom Youngs, 3-Dan Cole, 4-Joe Launchbury, 5-Geoff Parling, 6-James Haskell, 7-Chris Robshaw (captain), 8-Nick Easter; 9-Danny Care, 10-George Ford, 11-Jack Nowell, 12-Owen Farrell, 13-Henry Slade, 14-Anthony Watson, 15-Alex Goode.
Replacements: 16-Jamie George, 17-Joe Marler, 18-David Wilson, 19-George Kruis, 20-Tom Wood, 21-Richard Wigglesworth, 22-Jonathan Joseph, 23-Mike Brown.
Uruguay: 1-Mateo Sanguinetti, 2-Carlos Arboleya, 3-Mario Sagario, 4-Santiago Vilaseca (captain), 5-Jorge Zerbino,
6-Juan Manuel Gaminara, 7-Matias Beer, 8-Alejandro Nieto;
9-Agustin Ormaechea, 10-Felipe Berchesi, 11-Rodrigo Silva, 12-Andres Vilaseca, 13-Joaquin Prada, 14-Santiago Gibernau, 15-Gaston Mieres
Replacements: 16-Nicolas Klappenbach, 17-Oscar Duran, 18-Alejo Corral, 19-Mathias Palomeque, 20-Diego Magno, 21-Agustin Alonso, 22-Alejo Duran, 23-Manuel Blengio
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, Editing by David Goodman)
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