England head coach Eddie Jones on Thursday paid tribute to Japan’s “outstanding” Rugby World Cup win over Ireland, before turning his attention back to his team’s crunch match against Argentina this weekend.
Former Japan head coach Jones led the Brave Blossoms to a famous 34-32 win over South Africa at the 2015 World Cup in England, but this year’s side arguably eclipsed that achievement last Saturday when it beat Ireland — at the time ranked No. 2 in the world — 19-12 in Shizuoka.
Jones congratulated his former players and current Japan head coach Jamie Joseph as he faced reporters in Tokyo on Thursday, but stressed that his thoughts are very much on the present, not the past, as England prepares to take on Argentina at Tokyo Stadium on Saturday.
“I’m so pleased for the Japanese people,” said Jones, who coached Japan from 2012-15. “Japan have been warm and caring hosts of the World Cup, and for their team to play with such commitment and fighting spirit was absolutely outstanding.
“They beat the second-best team in the world, so it’s a great result for the tournament, it’s a great result for Japan and we’re pleased for them. But my thoughts are not with Japan at the moment, they’re with England.”
England has made a promising start to the tournament, beating Tonga 35-3 in Sapporo before dispatching the United States 45-7 in Kobe.
Argentina is likely to provide a far stiffer test on Saturday, but Jones had a fully fit complement of 31 players to choose from before he named his team on Thursday.
“We had 31 players competing hard, and we had an outstanding training run yesterday,” said Jones. “Certainly, we’ve got eight disappointed players, but they understand they have a massive role to play to support the team. Conversely, the guys who have been selected need to support those guys.
“It’s a credit to our strength and conditioning staff and our medical staff, what great condition we’re in. We’re six games into our World Cup preparation — four warmup games and two World Cup games — and we’ve got 31 players to select from.”
George Ford again starts at standoff while Owen Farrell lines up at inside center, with Jones making nine changes from the team that beat the U.S. Saturday’s lineup features only one difference — lock George Kruis replacing Courtney Lawes — from the team that began the tournament against Tonga.
“We’ve got a longer preparation, so, compared to the last game, we’ve had a lot more time to prepare,” said Farrell, who was lucky to avoid serious injury against the U.S., following a shoulder charge that earned American flanker John Quill a red card. “We’re looking forward to it now. Everybody’s fresh, everybody’s fit and we can’t wait to play.
“We’ve been training here all week. We’re prepared for any conditions that are thrown at us. We can only play whatever the conditions are at the time, and we’re well prepared to play any sort of rugby to do that.”
Argentina began the tournament with a dramatic 23-21 loss to France, before beating Tonga 28-12 in its second game. Argentine hooker Augustin Creevy described England’s playing style as “boring” earlier in the week, but Jones refused to rise to the bait and focused on the Argentines’ quality instead.
“It’s a strong team,” Jones said of Argentina, which reached the semifinals of the 2015 World Cup. “We know Argentina are at their best at World Cups. I think Creevy spoke of a number of things this week, one of which was how tight they are as a team. They’re a pretty good team if they can leave him on the bench.
“It’s going to be a massive test on Saturday. They haven’t scrummed against us yet, and we believe our scrum can be a real weapon for us. Hang on to your seats.”
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5