• Reuters


England should go into the 2023 World Cup confident but wary after being grouped with Argentina and Japan, plus probably another Pacific island nation, in a pool coach Eddie Jones has described as the most contrasting of the four in terms of style.

Although the tournament is still three years away and much can change in terms of form and personnel, it is reasonably safe to assume that England will arrive in France with the bulk of the squad that is dominating Europe after reaching the World Cup final in 2019.

England comfortably overcame Argentina in the pool stage in that tournament, albeit helped by an early red card for the Pumas, but the South Americans have kicked on strongly since, beating New Zealand for the first time and drawing twice with Australia in the recent Tri-Nations Championship.

Japan’s status remains something of an unknown, having not played since they brought so much joy to the game with their exhilarating displays when hosting last year’s World Cup, but it is again a fairly safe assumption they will continue to develop the high-speed approach that blew Scotland away in Yokohama.

“It’s probably the most contrasting pool in terms of style and philosophy and playing element and that’s what makes it the most interesting,” Jones told a remote news conference.

“We’ve got Argentina, who have a great World Cup record, and Japan, who are the most improved team in the game. It’s going to be tough as we don’t get many chances to play against teams like Japan so we are going to have to be really well prepared. And then you have the contrast of Argentina, who played probably the most physical game of rugby in 2020 against the All Blacks.”

Australian Jones gave a nod of respect to Tonga, potential members of Pool D along with an Americas qualifier, but his face really lit up when discussing Japan. His mother is Japanese and he coached them to their famous victory over South Africa in the 2015 World Cup pool stages.

Jones laughed off the suggestion that he might be feeling emotional at the time of the match in 2023 but said he was delighted that clips of Japan had featured heavily in the organizers’ pre-draw highlights video.

“I’m just so pleased they’re doing well,” he said.

Should England progress, they will play a team from Pool C — probably Wales, Australia or Fiji — in the quarterfinals, with a potential repeat of the 2019 semi against New Zealand, widely regarded as their greatest-ever performance, looming large.

Jones, of course, declined to look anything like that far ahead but did acknowledge that, for all his hunger for winning the next game, he was also taking the longer term view.

“We had nine new caps in 2020 so that’s a good progression for us,” he said. “We’re going through a rebuilding phase. We’ve had a fairly mature side for the last four seasons… those young guys have just to keep working hard.

“We won nine out of 10 games this year but never felt we played rugby where we were at our best so it’s exciting that we can keep improving.”

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