Martin Corry claims England will "draw strength from adversity" when they go into battle as huge World Cup underdogs against South Africa on Friday night.
England's preparations for their biggest Test match since the 2003 World Cup final have been decimated by injuries and suspension.
Fly-halves Jonny Wilkinson (ankle ligament sprain) and Olly Barkley (hip) are both sidelined, while skipper Phil Vickery starts a two-match ban following his citing for tripping United States centre Paul Emerick in last Saturday's Pool A opener.
Leicester forward Corry takes over the leadership reins at Stade de France, while England head coach Brian Ashton says Mike Catt will start in the number 10 shirt, with ex-Great Britain rugby league captain Andy Farrell alongside him as first choice goalkicker.
Against such a backdrop, South Africa - even though banned flanker Schalk Burger is unavailable - start as red-hot favourites.
But Corry believes England, whose last World Cup defeat came against the Springboks in Paris almost eight years ago, can defy the odds.
He said: "You want to draw strength from adversity, and we have had our share of adversity this week.
"It has drawn the squad closer together. We will take any motivation we can, and the ideal game for us is South Africa. Nine o'clock tomorrow night can't come soon enough.
"We've had the rollickings after our performance against the USA last weekend, and we deserved them. We let our supporters, we let ourselves and we let the country down."
To have any chance of stunning the Springboks - and taking pole position in their qualifying pool - England will need to dominate the physically-punishing breakdown area.
And with match citing commissioners having already made their mark on the tournament, it is also about keeping discipline in the heat of battle.
Corry added: "It (contact area) is a big area for controlled aggression.
"At times, there will be a bit of mayhem there. We want to be taking the physical edge right to the limit, but not beyond it.
"We have got to make sure we have 15 players on the field all the time."
For Ashton, the game represents comfortably his biggest challenge since taking over from Andy Robinson last December.
If England lose, they will effectively need victory over Samoa in Nantes on Saturday week to keep themselves in the tournament and avoid becoming the first Rugby World Cup holders to crash out before the quarter-finals.