‘Who’s calling it the group of death? No one’s going to die’
England head coach: ‘You can look in two ways - it’s a difficult pool or a great pool’
England’s head coach Eddie Jones at the Rugby World Cup Japan 2019 pool draw at Kyoto state guesthouse. Photograph: Getty Images
England have been placed in arguably the toughest group at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, after being picked to face France and Argentina in Pool C, setting them up for a potential semi-final meeting with New Zealand.
Wednesday’s draw in Kyoto had an air of familiarity for England after their former captain, Bill Beaumont, drew the ball that placed potential banana skins in England’s way, less than two years after they were dumped out of the group stage following defeats to Wales and Australia.
But Eddie Jones, the England coach, dismissed the idea that his side had been consigned to another “group of death” and said pool matches against France and Argentina would be “perfect preparation” for the later stages of the tournament.
“Who’s calling it the group of death? No one’s going to die,” said Jones after the draw at Kyoto’s state guesthouse.
My experience in World Cups is that to have two tough games is the best preparation to go through
“It’s simple ? you have to prepare well and play good teams, and that’s what we’re going to do against France and Argentina. We’ve played France consistently, and we have two Tests coming up against the Argentinians. So here we go.”
Jones added: “You can look in two ways - it’s a difficult pool or it’s a great pool - but you’ve just go to get through it. My experience in World Cups is that to have two tough games is the best preparation to go through.
“We want to win the World Cup - we’ve said that from the very start, and this pool gives us the incentive to keep on getting better. It’s exciting, and there’s no greater rivalry in rugby than England against France.”
Speaking in a city dotted with ancient Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, Jones joked that he was considering seeking divine intervention. “I’m going to visit the temples because I need to pray,” he said. “I need to pray really hard.”
England’s group is completed by two qualifiers - from the Americas and Oceania - with those places possibly being filled by the United States and Fiji or Samoa.
Jones’s New Zealand counterpart, Steve Hansen, appeared unconvinced that England were the All Blacks’ nearest rivals to win the 2019 tournament - the first to be held in Asia.
England are getting better and better all the time
England have won two successive Six Nations and equalled the All Blacks record of 18 Test victories in a row before losing to Ireland in March.
But Hansen said: “They’re one of (our rivals), along with South Africa, Australia and France. By the time the World Cup comes around, any one of a number of teams could win the tournament. England are getting better and better all the time, but they’re in a really strong pool. It’s going to be interesting.
“Everyone is saying that Pool C is the pool of death, and Pool B is easier. But you’re in what you’re in. England will be like us - just looking forward to getting here. They’re a good side.”
Beaumont, who opened the event as chairman of World Rugby, conceded that England faced a tough series of opening fixtures in Japan.
“It’s a tough draw for lots of teams,” he said. “Certainly (England and Argentina) are teams that know each other very well - but a World Cup game held on neutral territory is very different. England will be cautious, given how well Argentina have played in the last three World Cups.”
The Pumas reached the semi-finals at the last World Cup and have been touted
as a potential threat to top-tier teams.
To improve their chances of banishing painful memories of their ignominious exit from the group stage of the 2015 tournament, Jones’s side will have to acclimatize to the potentially tricky conditions in Japan.
Much of the country is still humid in late September - a month also known for occasional typhoons - before October brings dryer, cooler weather. “It’s going to be a challenge to be in Japan for teams that haven’t been here before,” said Jones.
The sport hopes to recruit another million players by 2019
Hansen held out the possibility of a friendly against Japan to give his side a chance to adapt to the conditions. “Will we play Japan between now and the World Cup? We’ll have to wait and see, but it wouldn’t be a silly idea,” he said.
Organisers will be hoping that the presence of national coaches and rugby dignitaries, along with Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, at Wednesday’s draw will boost the tournament’s public profile and match the anticipation felt over the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
However, the buildup to the draw attracted little interest among the Japanese media, and there was nothing in the streets around the ancient capital’s state guest house to suggest it was about to start the countdown to a major international tournament.
“Japan 2019 will be a celebration of rugby and friendship felt throughout this great country,” Beaumont said. “No doubt it will ignite a deep love of rugby, and Japan’s people and cites will be outstanding hosts.”
Abe, who is not known to be a rugby fan, said the tournament would be the perfect opportunity for Japan to showcase rugby to the rest of Asia, where the sport hopes to recruit another million players by 2019.
“I promise Japan will do everything it can to put on the best possible competition,” Abe said, “a tournament that will live on in people’s memories around the world.”
After being drawn in the same group as Scotland and Ireland, Japan will be hoping for a repeat of their extraordinary victory over South Africa in 2015.