Jonny Wilkinson believes England are ready to bounce back from their stuttering start and make a “do or die” assault on the William Webb Ellis Trophy in New Zealand.
Back in the side for Saturday’s clash with minnows Romania, Wilko insists the current campaign – which has featured a tight 13-9 win over Argentina and a less-than-sparkling 41-10 trouncing of Georgia – can end in a third successive World Cup final on October 23.
He compares the squad’s mood with 2007 in France, when Brian Ashton’s side were crushed by 36-0 by South Africa in their pool clash – but bounced back to play the Springboks in the final, where they lost 15-6 thanks to a controversial disallowed Mark Cueto try.
After a “harsh talking” squad gathering (not a crisis meeting, insisted the England management) this week, Wilko - who missed a record five kicks in the opening win over Argentina - insisted: "It’s the same kind of energy now. That 36-0 defeat sparked a path that we had to go down and thankfully we did.
“Maybe in 2007 we needed to lose to South Africa to make us realise we had to win the next two games against Tonga and Samoa otherwise we'd be out. It’s about accountability. We know we must do better, understand the mistakes we made and we know that ill-discipline in a World Cup is going to cost you.”
Wilko, who has been starting his kicking routine at 7am since his uncharacteristic inaccuracies under the roof at the Carisbrook “House of Pain” in Dunedin, added: "The punishment is looking at the other 14 guys who are working their backsides off. It's the feeling that you've put the guys in a difficult position, and made things difficult for the England team. That hurts more than any punishment.
"If you don't get these things spot on, it gets to the situation when you say, 'we've got to do better next time'. You don't get next week in a World Cup."
Wilko, who scored the sudden-death drop goal which secured the World Cup at Australia 2003, returns to the starting squad in Dunedin on Saturday with fly-half rival Toby Flood of Leicester rested despite being one of the few to emerge from the Georgia victory with any credit.
England finish their pool games with a potential banana-skin – old rivals Scotland in Auckland a week later. Having given away a record 11 penalties in the first half against Georgia, Scottish kicker Chris Paterson may be the key. Defeat would probably see a quarter-final against New Zealand, a win would pit England against unloved neighbours France.
Wilko revealed exactly why defeat in Pool B is not an option: “Martin Johnson told us: 'You'll be back watching the semi-final on TV and then going out to play Newcastle away.’
"He's absolutely right. I know exactly what he was talking about because he was playing against me that day. In 1999 we got knocked out in the quarter-finals and the next weekend was possibly one of the coldest, rainiest days we had at Newcastle and we were playing against Leicester.
“He’s right, that’s how it works. World Cups are do or die. We have to make sure we don't leave ourselves in that position. We just can't afford to keep giving penalties away. That's why there's an urgency about our meetings … everyone knows that sooner or later it's going to have an effect that we can't come back from. We need to make sure we nip it in the bud before then."
Mike Tindall – presumably after a talking to from his wife Zara Phillips, who arrives in Dunedin on Friday – is also back for the Romania clash after being splashed across the English tabloids for an evening of dwarf-throwing and Kiwi-clenching after the Argentina game.
But Wilkinson believes Tindall’s indiscretion has helped rather than hindered England. He said: "That story has been massively motivational to everyone in the team.
“We are more together than ever. We understand whatever's happened has happened and a huge element is there to drive into the squad to separate us. And the guys refuse to do that. The guys are pulling tight together.
"Just because someone says some things and writes some things makes no difference. We are aiming to continue on the path we're on, which is the right one."
On the injury front, prop Matt Stevens's ankle is said to be responding to treatment, so is Alex Corbisiero's calf, while Ben Foden has a sore side. At No8 Nick Easter could yet be replaced by Leicester's New Zealand born Thomas “The Tank Engine” Waldrom.
Cueto, so nearly the World Cup winner in 2007, is ready to start on the wing after a back problem. Bath's David Wilson is expected to make his World Cup debut in the front row.
Wilko, described as a “basket case” for his obsessive kicking practice in 2003, concludes: “It’s very difficult to explain World Cups. I’ve given up trying other than just knowing, deep down, you have got to come with everything and you never know what’s round the corner.”