Similar But Different

It's always risky to draw inferences and parallels from phoney wars, but over the past week I've found myself thinking about the months leading up to the Rugby Union World Cup in the English autumn of 2003.

Clive Woodward's side was the best in the world and had laid many a marker down over the preceding years. The passage of time was against them but all that remained was for them to win the biggest prize in the game in the backyard of the world champions. In those days I had real faith and throughout that summer was telling anyone who would listen that they would do it. They did, but it was the final act of a team which rapidly broke up and cast the side into a period of headlong decline from which they've only really started to emerge in the last six months.

Flower's England is similar - tough, talented, highly professional, increasingly ruthless - but different in that they are a less dominant force on the world stage. But they are also younger and will not break up once the impending contest is over, victorious or otherwise. On this occasion it is their opponents, and their captain in particular, who are feeling the chill winds of change.

This time I haven't felt the same type of faith. Years of humiliation and defeat on the cricket ovals of Australia have a tendency to sap the confidence, and, unlike the players, I've been there before (in mind and spirit, if not body), time and time again.

I still say that it will be close, but one's feeling, as the cold and gloom of an impending English winter draws down, is that this England team has what is required - as much skill as their opponents and as much, if not more, confidence - to do the job.

The first few days in Brisbane will be telling.

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