England ready to brew up a storm in wake of Tokyo typhoon
Eddie Jones’s side the ones to beat as they bring their power game to the World Cup
Kyle Sinckler in action for England during last Friday’s win over Italy in Newcastle. Photograph: EPA
The 2019 Rugby World Cup does not kick off until Friday week, but the chances of a mellow, uneventful tournament already feel remote. The typhoon that is due to strike Tokyo overnight has forced Australia to postpone their departure from Sydney by 24 hours and, amid forecasts of heavy rain and “historic” winds of up to 130mph, England’s scheduled arrival in Japan on Monday could yet be blown off course.
Delay or no delay, it is a timely reminder for England to expect the unexpected in east Asia. Not for nothing has Eddie Jones been shuttling his players around between multiple different training bases in an effort to replicate what awaits them in Japan. This summer alone they have had camps in Bagshot, Teddington and Bristol in the UK and Treviso in Italy before heading to Newcastle for their final warm-up game and flying out of Heathrow on Sunday. Their reward if they can reach the tournament’s last weekend will be a further eight weeks away from familiar home comforts.
All the hard work and sacrifices will, of course, be worth it should the Webb Ellis Cup be hoisted on November 2nd. Jones has constantly been delivering that same message, stressing the need to dig ever deeper on a daily basis. His captain Owen Farrell, though, accepts that not every challenge can be entirely planned for.
“You never know what could happen. You have got to be as prepared as you can but, at the same time, you have got to be ready to deal with anything. We will make sure we’re calm enough to do that,” he said.
Travel disruption, injuries, suspensions, the bounce of the ball – all the usual imponderables have to be factored in. So, more unusually, must the unique cultural setting England and the others are heading into. The Japanese language tuition and bowing lessons given to players sound like minor details but, in terms of swift acclimatisation, every little bit helps.
Out on the pitch, though, it is unlikely England’s tactics will lose much in translation. Their campaign will be based squarely on powerful ball carriers making frequent dents, winning collisions and keeping going until their opponents are out on their feet. Friday’s 37-0 victory over Italy, for all its initial sluggishness, further underlined why England will be awkward to beat in Japan. Even on days when they struggle for rhythm, their defensive workrate is significant and their fitness makes them hard to outlast in the final quarter.
The Italy coach, Conor O’Shea, is among those who believe England’s power runners, if given the opportunity, can propel their team a long way.
“I think any team that beats England is going to win the World Cup,” he predicted. “Their game is predicated on getting over the gainline and huge explosivity. Look at their raw power and their natural winners . . . They’ve got so many winners in that group from Saracens. They’ll be at fever pitch come the World Cup.”
It’s the most open tournament you’ve ever seen. You can’t call anything. It’s going to be an incredible World Cup
O’Shea’s team also lost 47-19 to France in a warm-up fixture but, according to the former Harlequins director of rugby, there will be only one winner of the Anglo-French contest in Pool C in Yokohama on October 12th. He rates England as the better team “by a stretch”, particularly if Kyle Sinckler, Billy Vunipola, Manu Tuilagi et al start rumbling in concert. As an Irishman, though, he adds that nothing is ever guaranteed.
“They are a powerful side but if they get out of their pool they’ve still got Wales or Australia lying in wait. It’s the most open tournament you’ve ever seen. You can’t call anything. It’s going to be an incredible World Cup.”
Even Italy, reckons O’Shea, could create a ripple or two if they can replicate their concerted effort in the first 50 minutes at St James’ Park.
“If we’d have played with that level of commitment against France last week I think we’d have run them pretty close. If we play like that in our first two pool games we’ll have no problems against Namibia and Canada. Then we’ll lie in wait. Everyone can write us off but there’s ability in this team. Any given Sunday, something special can happen. Things will stick one day.”
Blow hot and cold
There will be plenty of other coaches saying similar things even if they have to face Ireland, officially now ranked number one in the World Rugby rankings. England still have a slight tendency to blow hot and cold, but the aggregate scoreline against the Irish so far this year is currently 89-35 in their favour. If their optimum first-choice side now probably contains George Ford at 10 and Farrell at 12, with Tom Curry and Sam Underhill alongside Billy Vunipola in the back-row, they can rotate their cast if required to suit certain opponents and conditions.
On that basis they should be as competitive as any England Rugby World Cup side since 2003. Farrell, though, is not about to get carried away or make comparisons with the 2015 squad.
“I’ll leave that up to other people. We’re in a tough group but it’s exciting to play against some big teams. At World Cups you’ve got to make sure you keep building throughout and keep learning from the games. We are looking forward to it, we are excited about it, and we want to make sure we train and play like that. There’s still a lot left in us. That’s a good place to be in.”