Samoa’s surprise 19-15 defeat against Tonga in Montpellier yesterday has potentially eased England’s quarter-final passage.
But the Webb Ellis Trophy holders still need to beat Samoa in Nantes next weekend - and then Tonga at Parc des Princes six days later - to clinch a probable quarter-final appointment with Australia.
It should be a relatively trouble-free route. But England’s tournament record 36-0 defeat against South Africa raised fresh doubts about their ability to progress beyond the pool stage.
No previous rugby world champions have failed to reach the knockout rounds in their defence. England’s first task today was to bid Newcastle centre Jamie Noon farewell, after a knee ligament injury sustained against the Spring boks ended his World Cup.
No decision has yet been made on a possible replacement, but Noon’s Falcons colleague Toby Flood is favourite to replace him.
Elsewhere, full-back Jason Robinson (hamstring) will remain with the squad - although it is likely he will not be available until the quarter-final; fly-halves Jonny Wilkinson (ankle ligament sprain) and Olly Barkley (hip) should be in contention to face Samoa.
England, rated 80/1 by one leading firm of bookmakers to successfully defend their title, are continuing to pick up the pieces of a shambolic display which sparked a four-hour coaches’ de-brief and a no-holds-barred players’ meeting.
Head coach Brian Ashton is expected to announce his starting line-up tomorrow, and England know the time for talking is over.
Ford said: “Samoa run a million miles an hour at you, and they’ve got a great off-loading game which always creates problems.
“For 45 minutes against South Africa, they were in the game. The longer these teams are in the game, the more confidence they gain.”
nTomorrow: local rugby union round-up.