Ultimate test of character awaits England

James Haskell got in the mood for England’s decisive Rugby World Cup showdown with Scotland by watching an Ultimate Fighting “tear-up” on television as the build-up to the grudge match between the old enemies got underway in New Zealand.

England and Scotland lock horns in Auckland on Saturday knowing defeat could send one of them crashing out of the tournament.

Neither team has ever failed to reach a World Cup quarter-final – but the trapdoor is creaking after Argentina’s 13-12 victory over Scotland.

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If England win, they go through.

Scotland have to win by at least eight points – a feat they have not achieved for 25 years – to stand any chance of qualifying for the last eight.

It promises to be a battle royale at Eden Park – just as it was on Sunday when Jon Jones beat Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson to defend his light heavyweight title at UFC 135.

“The way we’ve played every game and the way I see every game it is like fighting for your life,” said Haskell who was an interested viewer.

“(Defence coach) Mike Ford reminded us that very quickly you can be on a plane home going ‘I wish I’d been involved’.

“You don’t ever want to leave that England shirt without a great performance and a do or die attitude. You need to put everything on the line. That’s how a team wins a World Cup.

“We will be fighting this week as if it’s our last game.

“We’re very positive and our mentality is extremely determined.

“We get the balance right between enjoying ourselves – some of us were watching the Ultimate Fighting Championship – and then switching on at training.

“Matt Stevens, myself, Lee Mears, Alex Corbisiero, Nick Easter were watching the Ultimate Fighting. There are a lot of keen guys there.

“When Matt Stevens was out for two years and he did a lot of mixed martial arts. Lee Mears is a big fan and I’ve done it personally.

“We really enjoy it. You get the knowledgeable ones who are spotting what’s going on – I was just there to watch a tear up!”

Haskell has used mixed marshall arts as a training tool for years, while Stevens became the British intermediate champion at Brazilian jiu jitsu during his drugs ban.

England have been doing a lot of wrestling as part of their World Cup training, a technique introduced to help them compete better at the breakdown.

Scotland were particularly competitive in that area when the two sides met in the Six Nations, while England have struggled to keep their discipline at the breakdown during the World Cup.

Haskell expects a Scotland backlash following their defeat to the Pumas and England will train ferociously this week to ensure they are ready.

“If you ever want everyone to raise the bar, then facing a Scotland team that’s been backed into a corner is it,” added Haskell.

“There will be full on contact as there always is because you cannot go into a game against Scotland under-prepared, where they love that physical challenge, they are a big forward pack who will want to dominate us.

“They’ll love nothing better than causing havoc in our set piece.”

Haskell has started all three of England games so far this tournament and has been arguably their most consistently impressive player.

Even if Nick Easter has shaken off the back injury that kept him out for a fortnight, there are no guarantees he will be able to shift Haskell from the No 8 jersey.

“I’m pleased with how things are going. If I’m selected on the weekend I want to carry on in the same vein,” he said.

“Going into this tournament everyone in the back row has been fighting for their places.

“I just want to make sure every time I go out on the field I get the basics right, give a good account of myself and make people proud. That’s why I play.

“This back row is a very competitive area and it all depends how the coaches want to play.

“I just need to make sure it’s as competitive as I can make it and then better-placed people can make those decisions.”

England will learn today whether they will face any sanction for Jonny Wilkinson’s attempts to change balls during Saturday’s World Cup win against Romania.

Law 9.8.1 states the kicker must convert tries with the same ball that was touched down, unless it is defective – but Wilkinson twice sought to switch it.

A World Cup spokesman said after the game that England were warned to “desist” at half-time and did so.

England manager Martin Johnson explained Wilkinson thought “one of the balls was slightly less than perfect so he wanted to swap it” and he said it was “not an unusual occurrence”.

England could be fined if they are deemed to have breached either the World Cup participation agreement or the laws of the game.

Flanker John Barclay maintains the belief Scotland can defeat England to rescue their World Cup campaign and avoid a premature return home.

Following the agonising 13-12 loss to Argentina in Wellington, the 25-year-old Glasgow Warriors openside said: “It’s not about making massive changes – we’re not going to reinvent the wheel in the space of a week.

“We’ve been building towards this World Cup for months now.

“We realise if we lose we go home – there’s no bigger stage and no bigger game.”