For a supposedly predictable team, England is awfully unpredictable heading into this World Cup.
England could blow away opponents in New Zealand with a physical game unmatched in intensity anywhere, or just as easily be made to look leaden-footed and outdated by that same physicality.
A powerful pack, former Rugby League wing Chris Ashton and backs Ben Foden and Ben Youngs could trouble even the Tri-Nations' best, but a lack of midfield creativity and likely meetings with France and Australia are serious obstacles to a third straight final appearance.
England looks some way short of being a realistic title contender, but the same was said in 2007 when the team rallied from a crushing first-round defeat to reach the final.
England scored 13 tries in five matches - three more than supposedly more adventurous Ireland or France sides - to win this year's Six Nations.
But a last-round loss to the Irish and the fact that almost half those tries came from Ashton added to the widespread view of England as a limited outfit. When time came around for World Cup warm-up matches a few months later, unpredictable England struggled to create clear openings in two matches against Wales but won in Ireland for the first time since 2003.
No one knows which of those teams will show up in New Zealand.
With its dominant pack and strong centres, England's default under pressure is to outmuscle rather than cut apart or work around opponents.
Centres Shontayne Hape and Mike Tindall - one of just five survivors from the 2003 title-winning squad - are defensively strong but often take the ball into contact when there seem to be other options, slowing play and spurning openings.
Ben Foden or Delon Armitage will offer enterprise as well as composure under the high ball from fullback but the centres are regularly criticized by fans and commentators for failing to turn huge swathes of possession into scoring opportunities.
"I find myself saying this after every test," team manager Martin Johnson said. "Shontayne is an underestimated player. He's very strong defensively, he's a smart footballer, he can off-load. Because he doesn't do things that make people think 'wow,' he gets a lot of criticism. But the way our team works, he's the man who gives other people the chance to do the 'wow' things.
"And anyway, I'd rather win ugly than lose pretty any day of the week."
Johnson, captain of England's 2003 title-winning side, has overseen a gradual improvement since taking over as team manager three years ago but was forced to rethink his World Cup squad selection because of an injury to scrumhalf Danny Care.
If fit, Youngs is now sure to start but Johnson has added Joe Simpson as a third scrumhalf after Richard Wigglesworth. Simpson takes the spot previously filled by Riki Flutey, whose absence leaves England with just one inside centre in Hape and only one true finisher in Ashton.
Pacy, strong and always lingering on a teammate's shoulder for the killer offload, Ashton led the Six Nations with six tries and has touched down nine times in his first 13 internationals - including a sensational length-of-the-field effort against Australia.
Any injury or loss of form for Ashton, whose importance to the team may soon approach that of fellow league convert Jason Robinson back in 2003, could spell real trouble.
The inclusion of Manu Tuilagi appears designed to address a failing apparent since the retirement of World Cup winners Will Greenwood and Mike Catt.
The 20-year-old Tuilagi, whose four brothers have represented Samoa, is an imposing figure at 185-centimetres (6-foot-1) and 110 kilograms (242 pounds) but showed speed of thought and movement in his debut appearance against Wales last month.
Tuilagi collected a short pass, stepped off one foot and moved the other way to cut through and touch down for one of just two tries England managed in two warm-up matches against Wales. He took his tally to two tries in two tests in the 20-9 win in Dublin.
"He gives you that bit of an X-factor, he will score a try from nothing, as you saw against Wales," club coach Richard Cockerill said. "If he's given his head to play, he could certainly be one of the stars of the World Cup."
Youngs and Toby Flood are a halfback combination as adventurous as any in the tournament, but could be split by the return of Jonny Wilkinson for a fourth World Cup as starting No. 10.
Wilkinson's positioning was blamed by many for England's drab attacking game in many of Johnson's early games in charge, but he has excelled for Toulon and on current form appears to be Flood's equal as a playmaker.
His tireless defensive work has always been a class apart from other flyhalves - and the source of many of his injury problems - while the boot that won England the 2003 World Cup with an extra-time drop goal remains as reliable as ever.
With Flutey absent, the pair could even appear in the same side if injuries hit, although they played together only once in the last four years.
A surplus of back row options means captain Lewis Moody and No. 8 Nick Easter have time to recover from injury.
England could conceivably storm through to the quarterfinals as the competition's form team, limp through Pool B as runner-up to Argentina, which finished third in 2007, or be eliminated by an embarrassing loss to Scotland.
Almost every claim in England's favour has a counter-argument pointing out a shortcoming.
While home and away wins over Australia in 2010 suggest England can compete with the southern hemisphere giants, the team has lost nine straight meetings with World Cup host New Zealand and seven straight against defending champion South Africa.
And a record of three final appearances and a semifinal from the past five competitions is offset by the twin tournament losses to the Springboks four years ago - 36-0 in the first round and 15-6 in the final.
In short, anything could happen.
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