KOBE – Japan was not drawn in the 2019 Rugby World Cup pool phase with England, the team coached by its former boss Eddie Jones. The earliest they could meet at the tournament would be in the semifinals, provided both teams get that far.
But it is looking like the matchup between the master and his former pupils could happen prior to the World Cup, in the November test window next year at Twickenham, Jones hinted in an interview with Kyodo News on Thursday.
When asked if a match was scheduled then, Jones said with a smile, “You guys know more about it than I do.
“Buy your tickets now. Make sure you bring your scarf, beanie hat, gloves. It’s cold in November. And you’ll need those little (hand) heating pads. What are they called?”
Jones, whose team has been drawn in Pool C with France, Argentina and qualifiers from the Americas and Oceania, admitted that playing Japan at the World Cup “would have been fun.”
“There would’ve been a massive crowd,” he said. “I came here Sunday morning, and a number of people came up and said, ‘I hope we get England in the pool.’ They genuinely wanted to see something. But it hasn’t happened.”
And how confident would Jones be if a game against the darlings of the 2015 World Cup were to materialize?
“There’s no way Japan will beat us,” he said.
A night after the pool draw in Kyoto, Jones was in the port city of Kobe scouting potential World Cup accommodation for his England team, which he hopes to bring to Japan for a training camp in 2018 after the June test matches.
One of the concerns Jones foresees — not only for England but also for the 18 other visiting sides — during the Sept. 20-Nov. 2 tournament is the weather.
The heat and humidity can still be punishing then, and the half-Japanese Jones is prepared to alter England’s playing style if need be at a time of the year when the ball can become like a bar of wet soap.
The climate could impact Asia’s first World Cup to a point where upsets could be produced, said Jones, who orchestrated the mother of all upsets himself with Japan two years ago in Brighton against South Africa.
“The good teams will find allowances, find ways of doing it. We’re going to have to work at it so I’m going to bring some of my staff here this year to do a dummy tour of the World Cup, and I want to bring the England team here for a training camp in June next year. No game, just training camp, probably for a week after the two tests. We might even have a camp in Roppongi,” he said, referring to one of Tokyo’s red-light districts.
“I think it’ll be tough in Japan because it’s in the middle of September, and you could get one of those hot, humid nights or days where the ball is like a piece of soap.”
“My first game when I came back to Suntory (Sungoliath) and took them to Toyota Stadium, if we held the ball for more than three phases it was a miracle. The ball was that slippery,” he continued.
“So if you get one of those nights in September, teams won’t be prepared for it. Then there could be upsets. Those conditions really test players not only physically, but mentally.”
Jones said Japan’s unique culture — which was mentioned by several coaches at the draw — is another factor that could sway the competition, the first to be organized by a nation not in World Rugby’s Tier 1.
“Just players coping with living in Japan is going to be different. Some teams will adapt really easily. So, for instance, the Fijians will love it here. Some teams will really grow here and some will struggle because it’s a unique culture,” he said.
“I’ve just been checking hotels in Kobe in case we stay here, and every (swimming) pool has got no tattoos allowed. If the Wallabies come here, half the team won’t be able to go into the pool. Probably a third of the English team won’t be able to go in. In other countries, nobody worries about tattoos.”
Japan was personally handpicked into Pool A by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with Ireland, Scotland, a third team from Europe and the winners of the qualifying playoff.
With no former champions in the pool, a majority of the Japanese media celebrated the draw results, saying their quarterfinal chances received a huge boost. When told of the local reaction, Jones shook his head in disbelief.
“They’re crazy thinking that because Ireland is one of the toughest teams in the world. They’re the only team to have beaten New Zealand in the last three years, and they stopped us from breaking the world record,” he said.
“And Scotland’s probably one of the most improved teams in the world. So how is that easy? In Japan, the glass is either full or empty. There’s nothing in between. Before every other World Cup, the glass has been empty. And now because we had success in 2015, it’s full.
“You have to remember that how the media is talking about the team now, the players are going to think like that and when you start thinking like that, you act like that.
“You think you’re in an easy pool, what happens? You don’t try hard.”