Dylan Hartley is convinced the army of travelling fans can be England’s secret weapon over the next two months in France, writes James Reid.
Thousands of rugby-faithful are set to cross the Channel throughout September and October, beginning with a clash with Argentina in Marseille on Saturday.
England finished as runners-up in Japan four years ago, but expectations have since been tempered this time around following an underwhelming Six Nations and four warm-up matches.
Hartley was speaking at the launch of O2’s #WearLaRose campaign which is supporting travelling fans with free roaming and other perks via Prioritythroughout the autumn games.
And the former hooker believes the proximity of the tournament to home compared to other nations could play a vital role in England defying pre-tournament predictions.
“It’s the beautiful thing about where this is placed geographically,” said Hartley. “It is easy links, and it is nice and convenient to get over for English fans. It is almost a home away from home.
“If you’re coming from the Southern Hemisphere, it’s a bit of a slog whereas England fans can dip in and out of the tournament.
“Performances haven’t sparked that massive fanfare going into the World Cup for England but if they beat Argentina the fans start believing and it is self-perpetuating.
“England fans want to believe; it is an experienced team, and they can play fantastic rugby. They want to support the team; England fans are very loyal and if results go our way it will build.
“It does drive performances on the field when you have your people in the crowd and have that atmosphere and emotion poured onto the field.
“Knowing you have your people there for you is a powerful thing.”
As part of O2’s campaign, a new piece of art has been unveiled at the Louvre in Paris, depicting real England fans and the role they play in rugby.
The artwork was created by award-winning Canadian artist, Vincent McIndoe, and is inspired by the host nation through the ‘French Romanticism’ style which captures the emotion and drama fans go through while supporting their team.
Steve Borthwick’s men are set to avoid the capital until the semi-finals, both of which will be hosted at the Stade de France.
And Hartley insisted there is no reason England cannot reach the last four if they are able to pick up a victory against Argentina.
"They can propel themselves into this tournament and that will raise a few eyebrows if and when they beat Argentina,” said the former England captain.
“I am not going to say it can save the season, but it can certainly turn things around. They then have time to build and the longer they are together the stronger they will be.
“Internally being in those environments is quite a nice place when you are written off, it is quite nice motivation.
“I am on the outside now and you see the schadenfreude, a lot of people are happy when England are down.
“It will bring the team closer together and they will be looking at the bright side of the opportunity.
“Nobody is respecting them as a contender for this Rugby World Cup but with the way the draw is laid out, stranger things have happened.”
Former England Rugby Captain, Dylan Hartley, has unveiled a unique portrait of England Rugby fans at the iconic Louvre Museum in Paris as part of O2’s Wear la Rose campaign, ahead of England’s first match this weekend.