AS SOMEONE who scored more than 4,000 career points, former England star Andy Goode knows what it takes to be a quality goalkicker.
However, he believes the Rugby World Cup which kicks off in Japan today – will not only be the most “open” in its 32-year history but also see the greatest goalkicker of all time emerge.
Eddie Jones’s England begin their campaign against Tonga on Sunday, looking to banish the painful memories of four years ago when they became the first host nation to fail to get through the group stages.
Owen Farrell, of course, will captain the side, the metronomic fly-haf who has gradually become so central to the Red Rose since debuting in 2012.
The British Lion, 27, has three times been shortlisted as World Player of the Year but, speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Goode believes he will take his game to new levels in the coming weeks.
“When it comes to England’s chances, you look at our power game and our big ball-carriers like Billy Vunipola, who is massive for us, and Manu Tuilagi as well,” said the former Leicester Tigers fly-half, who won 17 caps for England from 2005 to 2009.
Owen Farrell has the ability to match that – and go above it. When you look back to ‘03 where Jonny dropped the goal to win the World Cup for England, well Owen Farrell is now the most pivotal man to us. He is our captain, our leader.Andy Goode
“But one of the surveys Greene King have done ahead of this World Cup says 35 per cent of people believe Jonny Wilkinson is the greatest kicker of all-time.
“Owen Farrell has the ability to match that – and go above it. When you look back to ‘03 where Jonny dropped the goal to win the World Cup for England, well Owen Farrell is now the most pivotal man to us.
“He is our captain, our leader. There’ll be bolters in this World Cup, like Joe Cokanasiga who’ll come through and score tries.
“But it’s all about game-management, understanding those big moments, winning those big moments in the big games and when you have a leader as level-headed and strong-minded as Owen Farrell, I’m hoping he will be the guy to put us through.”
Of course, England’s World Cup successes are still limited to that solitary affair in Sydney but 39-year-old Goode believes they have never been better placed to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy again.
“Seeing how England’s developed over the summer and how the squad’s looking, I’m pretty hopeful that England have got every opportunity,” he added.
“The excitement’s been building to Friday and I’m backing an England team that I feel right now, has the best opportunity to win it since we did it in 2003.
“I really do feel the squad is that good. A lot is to do with timing and players being fit and we do have a couple of niggles.
“But in terms of our big power players we have Billy Vunipola and Tuilagi firing and Farrell leading the charge.
“These are real key men who, when at the knockout stages, if we can keep their momentum going and we get a little luck with injuries, we’ve every opportunity.”
Goode, whose record of 783 Premiership goals is bettered only by another former England No 10 Charlie Hodgson, believes New Zealand’s mantle as world champions is ready to slip.
The All Blacks have ruled ever since winning in 2011 but Goode insisted: “They are favourites but only just. South Africa have beaten them in the last year, so have Australia, so have Ireland.
“We haven’t managed to beat them since 2012 but the reality is the aura around the All Blacks –they’ve had this invisibility cloak on top of them where teams couldn’t beat them – has certainly changed this World Cup cycle.
“Going in everyone believes they are fallible; not only England but obviously Ireland and Wales who will be looking at themselves of having a massive chance.”
Granted, England have had a tendency to self-implode at such tournaments, whether on or off the field. As well as that disastrous failure four years ago, they crashed out in the quarter-finals against France in 2011 amid tales of drunken nights out and shambolic training in New Zealand.
Asked whether there could be similar potholes in Japan, Goode said: “Who knows what will be thrown in front of us? I think Eddie Jones will have spoken to a lot of the senior guys who have been involved in previous World Cups.
“There’s a number of them who were involved in 2015 where we didn’t turn up on matchday against Australia and Wales.
“We had decisions to make to kill the game which we didn’t take which would have sent us into the quarters. But there’s also been previous World Cups where we’ve seen off-field misdemeanours. You can only treat those as learning cases really and understand the one goal of what England – and every nation – is trying to do is win that World Cup on the second of November.
“Eddie Jones is a guy who will give players some down time, some free-time, but there’s a big understanding in the squad – and such a leader in Owen Farrell with how intense he is from day to day – I can’t see us slipping as we have done before into places where we shouldn’t be.”
Andy Goode was speaking in conjunction with Greene King who have more than 500 pubs nationwide showing key Rugby World Cup matches.