Liam Morgan

We’ve seen enough over the last 17 days to suggest England’s premature exit from their home Rugby World Cup at the hands of arch-rivals Australia in brutal fashion at Twickenham Stadium won’t be a terminal blow to the overall momentum of the tournament.

The home nation’s optimism and hope quickly dissipated during a one-sided affair that stunned the majority of the 80,000-odd in attendance, and saw four years of intense work and preparation by the England management, led by villain of the piece Stuart Lancaster, collapse in front of their very eyes.

Support and encouragement turned sour, with anger and indignation at what the fans were witnessing replacing the original verve and anticipation that had gone before.

Everyone inside the stadium thought a desperate defeat to France at the quarter-final stage of the 2011 tournament in New Zealand was the low point for English rugby.

How wrong they were.

England were outclassed in every department, failing to capitalise on the buzz and fervour that had surrounded the tournament since it began on September 18, which has seen even those staunchest of anti-rugby sports enthusiasts tune in to their television sets.

But while England’s dreams were shattered by a ruthless Aussie performance, culminating in a dismal 33-13 defeat - the biggest losing margin they had ever suffered to their opponents in their back yard - the rest of those outside of their Pool would barely have given their oh-so drastic fall a passing glance.

The hosts clearly crumbled under the pressure of staging the tournament but that shouldn’t see a wane in enthusiasm for the competition as a whole, which has seen the likes of Japan and Fiji steal the hearts of the nation.

Hearts are surely in the mouths of tournament organisers when the home nation crashes and burns, particularly in such an acrimonious manner as England, but those at World Rugby perhaps won’t have such fears about this year’s World Cup.

Fans have flocked to stadiums and fanzones alike so far, with venues sold out across the country, even for less headline contests such as Samoa against the United States, which attracted 29,178 supporters in Brighton, or France’s 41-18 win over Canada, watched by a record crowd for any sporting event at stadium:mk in Milton Keynes.

And with plenty of rugby still to be played, as the cliché goes, this trend will, more than likely, continue.

Australia produced a stunning performance to knock England out of their home Rugby World Cup at the group stage
Australia produced a stunning performance to knock England out of their home Rugby World Cup at the group stage ©Getty Images

This view is shared by World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper, who tweeted this morning: “Disappointing for host nation to exit. Credit to Wales & Australia. #RWC2015 will continue to gather global momentum and records."

Despite rugby being one of the main sports in England, it would be easy for passion for the tournament to gradually decline, but the performances of Japan, for example, have raised the momentum bar even higher as those with no real interest in rugby have thrown their weight behind the underdog.

It is fair to say that rugby has no real tradition in the Asian nation, with sporting fans preferring football, baseball and martial arts such as karate over a game of egg-chasing.

Yet here they are, standing on the brink of an historic quarter-final appearance following their commanding 26-5 victory over Samoa yesterday, a truly incredible feat that even the most optimistic of Japanese sports fans would never have predicted.

They have provided the most remarkable of results at this and possibly any Rugby World Cup in history after they beat the mighty South Africa earlier on in the competition - a truly unfathomable occurrence that had every rugby enthusiast rubbing their eyes in disbelief.

It also gave organisers of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, where Japan will become the first-ever Asian hosts of the tournament, an unexpected early boost.

Although they are following England out of the tournament exit door, Fiji have also garnered a large amount of support from fans for their high-octane, fearless performances - always accompanied by a smile, of course - and their departure may even be greeted with the same disappointment in some circles as that of the hosts.

England became the first host nation of the Rugby World Cup to exit the competition at the group stage following defeat at the hands of Australia
England became the first host nation of the Rugby World Cup to exit the competition at the group stage following defeat at the hands of Australia ©Getty Images

British broadcaster ITV also remain hopeful that England’s early departure from their home World Cup won’t see interest dwindle, and they have seen record viewing figures so far compared to previous World Cups.

They say an average of 3.3 million people have watched their coverage this time around, a substantial increase from the 2.5 million who tuned in during France 2011, and it is not just in England where viewing figures have been strong.

According to Eurosport, more than 5 million different Germans have watched at least one match so far, while over in The Netherlands, where rugby is very rarely high on the sporting agenda, 200,000 people watched the hosts succumb to Wales in what was a thrilling contest last Saturday (September 26).

A good example of the World Cup’s vast appeal as the two nations have next to no heritage in the sport.

The economic sector is the most likely to take a hit in England - with pubs and advertisers feeling the pinch of a disastrous performance from Lancaster’s men - but accountancy firm Ernst and Young are still predicting encouraging financial results come the end of the event on October 31.

“Although there will, of course, be millions of disappointed English fans, we expect interest in the tournament will remain high,” Ernst and Young director Peter Arnold told British newspaper the Daily Mail.

“Tickets sales have been exceptionally strong, with most games pretty much sold out.

“The English are also traditionally great sports fans, who have already attended matches in their thousands even where England were not involved, and so will continue to support the event to see the world’s best rugby players in action.

“We should also remember that Wales and Scotland are still very much in the tournament, plus if Ireland and France do well that could result in a flood of visitors.”

Sceptics in the host nation will always be prominent following such a high-profile exit, with those most vociferous voices of discontent half-jokingly claiming on social networking site Twitter that 25,000 empty seats should be expected for England’s last group game against Uruguay on October 10 at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester.

But those in countries such as New Zealand and South Africa, where rugby is at the very core of their respective national identities and whose teams remain in the tournament, will carry on with a business as usual mantra.

Interest in the Rugby World Cup has been high with even games between lesser nations attracting sell-out crowds
Interest in the Rugby World Cup has been high with even games between lesser nations attracting sell-out crowds ©Getty Images

Their fans who have travelled to England will maintain their passion and will continue to attend their teams’ matches in their droves.

In Australia, their triumph on the hallowed Twickenham turf will only serve to further ramp up interest in the tournament, while those in Ireland and Wales will be further encouraged that their sides can go on and lift the Webb Ellis trophy following the plight of one of their main rivals.

So to suggest interest, enthusiasm and passion for the 2015 Rugby World Cup may wilt just because England are out is far too premature.

Of course, England fans will be forgiven for feeling bitterly disappointed and angry at their team’s meagre showing.

While Britain’s athletes seized on the energy we saw at London 2012 to produce a sterling overall performance which will live long in the memory, the England rugby team have collapsed so spectacularly under the weight of pressure and expectation.

The inquest into their failure is certain to continue for many months, perhaps even years, but judging on the evidence so far, organisers have little reason to shed a tear over England crashing out.