Pool A | World ranking: 7
England captain Phil Vickery
Coach: Brian Ashton
Key players: Tom Rees, Jonny Wilkinson, Jason Robinson
Past record: Winners 2003; Runners-up 1991; Semi-finals 1995; Quarter-finals 1987, 1999
October 6: England 12-10 Australia, Marseille
October 13: England 14-9 France, Saint-Denis
October 20: v South Africa, Saint-Denis 2100 (1900 GMT)
Defending champions England go into the tournament with little hope of reaching the semi-finals.
Brian Ashton has this year been handed the task of rebuilding a team which disintegrated after the success of 2003, with several key players retiring and coach Clive Woodward's successor Andy Robinson unable to make his mark.
The past four years have been notable for inconsistent selections and variable game plans, which Ashton has sought to remedy by reverting to a dour forward-driven style.
His side showed a depressing lack of creativity in the warm-up matches, including two defeats by France in which England failed to score a try.
Star fly-half Jonny Wilkinson misses the Group A opener against the United States with an ankle problem, but he is not the force he was in 2003 after a terrible series of injuries and his return may not be enough to take England past the quarter-finals.
If England finish as pool runner-up behind South Africa, then they face a likely rematch of the Sydney final against Australia - and on recent form the Wallabies would be favored to triumph.
But if Ashton's team can edge out the Springboks, then a winnable last-eight clash with Wales would set up the possibility of a semi-final against hosts France. E-mail to a friend
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