Just days away from the start of the Rugby World Cup in Japan, and social media is filled with predictions and support for various countries. One of the most popular teams that have been touted to make the final have been in phenomenal form in 2019, and will undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with in Japan. Coached by the masterful Eddie Jones, England look like a well-oiled machine after their Word Cup preparations.
After being unceremoniously dumped from their own tournament in 2015 without making it out of the group stages, England look as if they have shaken off their ghosts as they have prepared for the World Cup in Japan. While Jones has made some big calls for his World Cup squad, leaving out the likes of Mike Brown, Danny Cipriani, Dylan Hartley and Chris Robshaw, the players that have gone over to Japan with Jones have been well drilled by the former head coach of the Brave Blossoms.
So far in 2019, England have suffered just two defeats and a draw, with the Wales being the only team to have had England’s number in 2019, and Scotland pulling out the game of their season to draw to England. It is clear that the English side that has travelled to Japan have worked on their biggest issues over the past few years, including their discipline, defence and structure. This boils down to the coaching, rather than the individual skills of the players in the squad.
Jones’ preparations with the Brave Blossoms in 2015 saw the Japanese side cause the biggest upset in World Cup history by beating the Springboks. As he did against South Africa with Japan, it seems that Jones has targeted the playing style of Ireland in the lead up to the World Cup, as England have convincingly beaten the Irish twice in 2019. In Twickenham in August, England’s dismantling of the Irish defence with clever kicks and smart inside passes helped them to a 57-15 victory; bouncing back from a 13-6 loss to Wales which denied them a chance to go No. 1 on the World Rankings.
The downside of being so well coached, however, is that it seems that England are unable to adapt on the field to a changing gameplan from their opponents. This was clear in their loss to Wales in Cardiff in August, as the Welsh team adapted their gameplan from the previous week, and managed to out think their English counterparts.
England’s ability to shut down play with their fast defensive line, and powerful forwards is arguably only matched by South Africa, however the difference is that South Africa has shown a few glimpses of something special when their backs were against the wall in 2019. Where Handre Pollard, Herschel Jantjies and Sibusiso Nkosi have been forced to think on their feet and adapt to unique situations, the likes of Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Ben Youngs all only seem capable of following Jones’ script (barring Farrell’s no-arms tackling technique).
Only Manu Tuilagi has proven that he is able to think on his feet and make use of broken play to turn it into a solid scoring opportunity. If he can remain injury free for the full tournament, it will not be far fetched to think that England could go far enough to win the World Cup at the end of November. The combination of Tuilagi’s game-breaking ability with the rest of the teams’ well-drilled unity and game structuring should see England well into the final stages of the World Cup.\
The English will also be buoyed by the knowledge that Jones has of the Japanese conditions, which are unique to island nation at this time of year. The humidity and heat in Japan during the World Cup will be a massive factor, and Jones will surely prepare his side for these conditions and have a gameplan prepared to exploit the conditions throughout the duration of the World Cup.
If England can learn to adapt more freely to an unexpected gameplan from their opponents, and if Jones has done enough homework on the teams that will be in his teams’ way to the final, then the English should be well poised to make their first World Cup Final since 2007. Should they be able to adapt to the conditions, and capitalise on broken play more often, they may even be able to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for only the second time.