As a host nation you expect the time leading up to a Rugby World Cup to be a positive and comfortable one however it is fair to say that for England Rugby it has been a touch more turbulent than they would have liked.
It is my hope that the widespread criticism surrounding selection decisions was heightened due to the 'out of sorts' performance that England delivered in Paris and that it won't continue to tarnish support. The fact of the matter is this; England are not the favourite, they are in the most difficult pool in history and if that hand wasn't challenging enough they are the hosts.
In years gone by England had to contend with one maybe even two challenging group stage matches; the fate that will meet the likes of South Africa and New Zealand this year given their easier pools. However, when the pressure is even greater due the tournament being on home soil, England will have to climb and conquer three group stage mountains in Fiji, Australia and Wales.
The Fijians pose the ultimate opening night threat, they are a handful at the best of times and after a successful summer together have the words 'Banana Skin' penned all over them. This week Wales announced a squad with a few surprises but ultimately one that looks battle hardened and that is ready to peak at exactly the right time. Wales' recent performance against Ireland shows that they aren't afraid to gate-crash and spoil a party and in my opinion they looked as strong as we've seen them in a last few seasons. The Australians, as expected have turned it on just at the right time too. Michael Cheika has been an inspired selection as coach, he has the respect of all of the players and his tinkering with the 'selection criterion' has already paid dividends. Oh and finally the Wallabies have found a scrum...!!
The long and the short of it is this; England Rugby need the power of home support. As cliche as it might sound 'the 16th' man can, and must, be a factor in this tournament. Twickenham Stadium must be shaken to its very core by the noise of support for England Rugby during every single one of their matches, for however long they are in the tournament. Now with the first match edging ever closer wholehearted and vocal support is necessary, whether you agree with the selection decisions made or not. Positivity and unwavering encouragement must be the order of the day starting this week as England face a very stern test of character. Without question this England side will already be feeling and dealing with an immense amount the pressure, they didn't perform in Paris and now must face a gnarly and scorned Irish side on home soil less than two weeks before their Rugby World Cup campaign commences. Wales have done the business, Australia beat the All Blacks during their preparation and England have won one and lost one. This fixture is critical and it isn't as if Ireland are easy opponents like others have chosen for their last warm up game.
The players and coaching staff say that they don't read what is written in the press or react to what is being said on social media channels however that simply isn't the case. Continual negative gripes, comments or questions saying I knew that 'x' shouldn't have been selected will filter through. This is a colossal task ahead, just ask any member of the 2011 New Zealand squad, for being a host nation means that tournament it so much more intense than it already would be.
We all have our viewpoints regarding selection, of course we do, however for the next nine weeks unequivocal support will be vital to ensure that home advantage is fully exploited and made the most of during the greatest tournament of this squad's lives.