Eddie Jones has warned of the dangers of his young England players getting too far ahead of themselves too quickly after his side were handed a favourable 2023 World Cup pool draw alongside Japan and Argentina.
Jones said he “wasn’t disappointed” to be drawn alongside the nation he coached at the 2015 World Cup, thereby avoiding the hosts, France, in the pool stages. Argentina pulled off a shock win over New Zealand last month but England comfortably beat the Pumas a year ago in Japan and will be favourites to top their pool, which will also include either Tonga or Samoa and a nation from the Americas, potentially Canada.
Jones wants his players to embrace the pressure that comes with being favourites, having struggled with that label in the 2019 World Cup final defeat by South Africa and, more recently, their extra-time Autumn Nations Cup final win against a severely weakened France.
Rugby World Cup 2023 draw
Pool A: New Zealand, France, Italy, Americas 1, Africa
Pool B: South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, Asia/Pacific, Europe 2
Pool C: Wales, Australia, Fiji, Europe 1, final qualifier
Pool D: England, Japan, Argentina, Oceania, Americas 2
Places in italics reserved for qualifiers from that region
That victory ensured England finished 2020 with eight wins in a row and as both Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup champions, but Jones believes his side are in a “rebuilding phase” having handed out nine new caps this year.
Jones, who is currently in Japan, said: “The young guys have got to keep working hard. Sometimes in England they can get too far ahead of themselves too quickly, so we have got to make sure they keep working hard, keep making sure they become a better player, and then we’ll have great competition. This year has been satisfactory. We won [eight out of nine] games but never played at our best, so that’s exciting.”
England had been scheduled for a two-Test tour of Japan last summer before the coronavirus pandemic struck but with Japan also unable to take their place in the Autumn Nations Cup the Brave Blossoms have not played since last year’s World Cup quarter-final defeat by South Africa. Their coach, Jamie Joseph, is hopeful Japan will face England before the World Cup while Argentina are likely to appear at Twickenham in the 2022 autumn internationals programme. Talks over a more collaborative global calendar – with the July Test window potentially moving to October – continue but while Jones is in favour, he does not expect any significant progress.
“Argentina have a great World Cup record and Japan are the most improving rugby nation in the world, so it’s going to be a great challenge,” he said. “Japan will be tough because they play the game differently. We don’t get many chances to play against teams like Japan. It would be great if the top 10 countries were involved in regular competitions. That’s got to be for World Rugby, something they’ve got to drive and it’s a matter of finding spaces in the competitions.
“With what’s happened with Covid I think things are going to be fairly stable till the 2023 World Cup and then after that I think they’ll resurrect those plans to get better championships in the October-November period.”
If England top their pool in France they are likely to meet either Wales or Australia in the quarter-finals, as was the case in Japan. With the winners of pool A, which features France and New Zealand, possibly waiting in the semi-finals it is not inconceivable England’s knockout route to the World Cup crown mirrors that of 2019. Jones preferred not to discuss the latter stages but did pinpoint Marseille as a potential training base on his assumption some knockout matches will be staged there. Recalling the 2007 World Cup, when Jones worked as a consultant with the winners, South Africa, he said: “The place I did enjoy was Marseille, they had a fantastic training facility, it’s warm, it’s hot … if the option was to be in the south of France I’d take that because I like the warm conditions.
“The advantage of training in those hot conditions would be very important. Definitely that would be our preference.”
Scotland’s coach, Gregor Townsend, believes his side has been drawn in the hardest pool, alongside the champions, South Africa, and Ireland. “I believe it’s the toughest pool,” he said. “Ireland are ranked fifth in the world, South Africa are ranked first, they are the world champions, and we’re ranked seventh – all three teams are in the top eight in the world, which means it is going to be very competitive.”