LONDON • Stuart Lancaster will take "full responsibility" if England do not win the biggest game of his career against Australia today, with his team under no illusions about what is at stake.
Lancaster, who was last year handed a contract through to 2020 along with the rest of the coaching team by the Rugby Football Union, said it was hard to think of many clashes in any sport with even higher stakes.
He admitted that failing to emerge from the Rugby World Cup's Pool A - the "Group of Death" - had preyed on his mind since the draw was made.
"I understand the consequences, I understand where the accountability and responsibility lies and it is with me," said Lancaster, who called for the country to get behind England following their debilitating defeat by Wales .
He said he had not held discussions with the RFU's chief executive, Ian Ritchie, about what may happen if England were to exit at the pool stage.
"We're obviously aware what is at stake - you don't have to be a rocket scientist to work it out. There's not been any further conversation about the ramifications of defeat or victory. He knows and I know that all we've got to do is focus on Saturday," said Lancaster.
His plan is to invoke the spirit of December 2012 when his England side lost to South Africa but bounced back to stun New Zealand 38-21 at Twickenham.
"This is the biggest game of my career. If we don't win, we don't qualify for the next stage. But I have to make sure the players are not focusing on the size of the game," he said.
"The overriding message at the start of the week was to get up and get on with it after a hugely disappointing defeat."
Both the England coach and his captain, Chris Robshaw, vowed to use criticism from outside the camp from former players and coaches as fuel to overcome Australia.
"You need to know what's happening, absorb it and use it, I think. That's the best way," said Robshaw.
"You want to go out and prove a couple of people wrong."
In many ways, Wales have already done that. Few believed Warren Gatland's injury-ravaged side would do well at the World Cup in a group with two former winners.
Yet, following their 23-13 win over Fiji on Thursday, the Welsh will head to their final pool match against Australia next weekend with three wins out of three.
Progress to the knockout stage is not assured for the 2011 semi-finalists but victory for Australia over England would secure it.
After first-half tries from scrumhalf Gareth Davies and hooker Scott Baldwin, it looked like Wales would earn the four-try bonus that would have made their position even stronger.
A combination of Welsh fatigue and Fijian fitness, however, meant the home side failed to cross the line in the second half and were reliant on the faultless place-kicking of fly-half Dan Biggar.
"Got to give great credit to Fiji, it was very tough. I was knackered in the first half," Wales captain Sam Warburton told reporters at the Millennium Stadium.
"But if someone had said before the start of the tournament we would have three wins from three, you would have bitten their hand off for that.
"After the work we did last weekend, we couldn't throw it away."
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS
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