England travel to Japan after four years of a rollercoaster ride with coach Eddie Jones as genuine World Cup contenders.
Jones, in charge of his native Australia when they lost the 2003 World Cup final to England in Sydney, was recruited by the Rugby Football Union after the Red Rose brigade’s embarrassing first-round exit on home soil at the 2015 edition.
The vastly experienced Jones, a consultant to the South Africa side that won the 2007 World Cup and the coach of the Japan team that stunned the Springboks four years ago, made no secret of his ambition to lead England to World Cup glory in Japan.
He started his England reign with 17 straight wins, part of a record-equalling run of 18 victories — England had won their last ‘dead’ pool match at the 2015 World Cup under Jones’s sacked predecessor, Stuart Lancaster.
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England centre Manu Tuilagi makes a break during the Six Nations at Twickenham.Source:AFP
But, having seemingly established a pattern of play based on traditional English virtues of forward power and a sound kicking game, the wheels started to come off and last year saw England finish a lowly fifth in the Six Nations.
There were signs of improvement this year with England, runners-up to Grand Slam champions Wales, playing a more expansive style of rugby.
But the way they squandered a 31-0 lead in a remarkable 38-38 draw with Scotland in their final match of the Championship suggested that Jones’s side had yet to find the right balance between attack and defence, with a lack of game intelligence — as well as Scottish brilliance — costing them what should have been a comfortable victory.
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Joe Cokansiga of England scores a try at Twickenham.Source:Getty Images
— England peaking? —
However, their record 57-15 win over Ireland in a warm-up match at Twickenham last month indicated England might yet be peaking at the right time.
Significantly, this was a fixture in which the trio of wing Joe Cokanasiga, centre Manu Tuilagi and No 8 Billy Vunipola, all with Pacific Island heritage, were fit and firing in the same side.
Between them they gave England an additional cutting edge of pace and power.
Locks George Kruis and Maro Itoje eventually dominated the Irish lineout, with prop Kyle Sinckler anchoring the scrum and starring in the loose.
Of course, an eight-try win came with significant caveats.
England were at home, Ireland were without their best players in Jonny Sexton and James Ryan and it was, after all, just one game.
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England coach Eddie Jones talks with scrumhalf Ben Youngs at Twickenham.Source:AFP
Nevertheless, Vunipola recognised those circumstances immediately after the game.
“I said to Eddie ‘it’s something we need to start doing away from Twickenham,” he recalled.
Doubts persist about England’s defence, particularly that of attacking fullback Elliot Daly, both under the high ball and in open play, while opponents will feel they can rattle goalkicking captain Owen Farrell, who now looks as if he will start at inside centre while childhood friend George Ford is at fly-half.
“Our aim is to be the best side in the world, it always has been,” said a focused Jones after the Ireland match.
“Are we moving in the right direction? Yes. Are we ready to win the World Cup now? No.” Argentina and France especially could prove tricky opposition in a Group C also featuring Tonga and the United States but England head to Japan with a degree of optimism that was hard to detect only a year ago.
Pocock creates RWC headache
Rugby: David Pocock made a terrific return for the Wallabies against Samoa on Saturday. His availability creates a welcome headache for Michael Cheika ahead of the Rugby World Cup in Japan.
— ENGLAND AT A GLANCE
WORLD RANKING — 3RD (88.13)
HOW QUALIFIED — AUTOMATIC (TOP 12)
R WC HISTORY — PLAYED 44: 31 WINS, 13 LOSSES, 0 DRAWS
2015: POOL STAGE
Coach: Eddie Jones
Captain: Owen Farrell
Joe Cokanasiga, Elliot Daly, George Ford, Piers Francis, Willi Heinz, Jonathan Joseph, Jonny May, Ruaridh McConnochie, Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi, Anthony Watson, Ben Youngs, Dan Cole, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tom Curry, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Jack Singleton, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola, Mako Vunipola, Mark Wilson
Bridge crosses for four
Rugby: All Blacks’ speedster George Bridge was in try scoring form as he crossed for four excellent five pointers against Tonga.
— FACTS AND FIGURES
— Became the first host nation to fail to make it out of the Pool Stages at RWC 2015.
— However they are the only Northern Hemisphere side to win a Rugby World Cup crown (2003).
— Equalled the longest win streak by a Tier 1 Nation in Test history during this RWC cycle, winning 18 straight Tests from 2016-2017.
— Are the only nation participating at this World Cup to have an undefeated calendar year since the last RWC in England (2016 — 13/13 wins).
— Won the Six Nations title in both 2016 & 2017.
— England coach Eddie Jones participates at his fourth RWC with his fourth different country (Australia 2003, South Africa 2007 (Assistant), Japan 2015, England 2019).
PLAYER TO WATCH — MANU TUILAGI
The centre has managed just 10 Test matches since the last RWC through a variety of injuries but has looked devastating throughout 2019 with destructive performances in both attack and defence. The younger brother of former Samoan internationals Freddie, Henry, Alesana, Anitelea and Sanele Vavvae.
TOP RWC POINT-SCORER — Johnny Wilkinson (277)
TOP TRY-SCORER — Rory Underwood (11)
AIM FOR THE TOURNAMENT: “We want (to) be the best prepared England side there has ever been, ready to win the World Cup” — Eddie Jones
Originally published asRWC Countdown: Why you should be scared of Eddie Jones’ England
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