>> Gus­cott: France will be big threat in 2019

The Rugby Paper - - Front Page - JEREMY GUS­COTT

“Eng­land hold the cards as Six Na­tions cham­pi­ons, but next year’s crunch in Paris will be a bet­ter barom­e­ter of the progress each has made”

EV­ERY in­ter­na­tional coach ranked 1-8 wanted to avoid the 2019 RWC group Ar­gentina were in. They are a na­tion that showed in 2015 that they are a qual­ity team ca­pa­ble of beat­ing the best out there and like Eng­land and France they are a tier 1 side. That makes three ‘mus­cle’ teams in the same group, and it means that, just as in the 2015 group with Eng­land, Wales and Aus­tralia, one of them is not go­ing to make the last eight.

With­out doubt it’s a hard draw, and given a choice you would not want to be in that group. How­ever, it’s no good dwelling on the neg­a­tives, and the up­side is that Ed­die Jones can start plan­ning now -- be­cause the dy­nam­ics within the group are rea­son­ably clear.

For in­stance, out­side the key games against France and Ar­gentina, the Eng­land head coach can plan rest ro­ta­tion around the games against the other sides, which will be ei­ther Fiji or Samoa, and the USA or Canada.

Rank­ings will change be­tween now and the 2019 World Cup, but what Jones will know is that nei­ther Samoa nor Fiji will pose the phys­i­cal threat they did in my era. They were a se­ri­ous propo­si­tion then be­cause of their size and hit­ting power. That chal­lenge is not quite what it was be­cause North­ern Hemi­sphere play­ers are bet­ter con­di­tioned, and those in the Eng­land side are more phys­i­cally gifted over­all.

France are clearly a ma­jor threat to Eng­land’s chances of win­ning the group, and although they have not won a world ti­tle they have a won­der­ful World Cup record, even man­ag­ing to qual­ify for their third fi­nal in 2011 against hosts New Zealand de­spite los­ing to Tonga.

The other dan­ger for Eng­land is that by 2019 France could have a great fly­half con­duc­tor if Camille Lopez car­ries on im­prov­ing. A com­mand­ing 10 is some­thing they have not had for a long time, and the Cler­mont play­maker might be the an­swer.

The big haz­ard with the group is that it sets who­ever wins it on course to play New Zealand in the semi-fi­nals, and there's been some sug­ges­tion that it might be bet­ter strat­egy to fin­ish se­cond and move into the other half of the knock-out draw.

I don’t agree. Eng­land, France and Ar­gentina will all want to win Pool C, and will not be think­ing about avoid­ing New Zealand. The real is­sue is moving into the knock-out stage with con­fi­dence and mo­men­tum high, be­cause those fac­tors are far more im­por­tant than side-step­ping an op­po­nent.

The at­ti­tude has to be that if you want to win the World Cup you will prob­a­bly have to beat New Zealand, and los­ing to them in a semi-fi­nal is no dif­fer­ent to los­ing to them in a fi­nal.

Eng­land are likely to be ranked in the top three in the world by 2019, and they will get to play game’s against France and Ar­gentina on a reg­u­lar ba­sis be­fore then. For a start, they tour Ar­gentina this sum­mer, be­fore play­ing them again in the au­tumn.

I don’t ex­pect Eng­land to win the two-Test se­ries in Ar­gentina given the size of their Lions con­tin­gent, and I be­lieve that the ex­pec­ta­tion on them is min­i­mal. If they find a No.6, No.7 and another cen­tre that will be a plus.

How­ever, Eng­land will not want to lose mo­men­tum, and Jones will want to steal a Test – but they are un­der­dogs this time against the Pu­mas.

France will also want to prove a point to Eng­land be­tween now and 2019. As a na­tional side they seem more com­plete this sea­son. In re­cent years they have been dis­jointed, un­bal­anced, and have lacked co­he­sion. This sea­son France coach Guy Noves de­vel­oped a bet­ter strat­egy, a lot of it based around im­pos­ing them­selves from line-out drives, and they were un­lucky not to beat Eng­land at Twick­en­ham.

The French prob­lem is not con­cen­trat­ing for the full 80 min­utes. Against Eng­land that gives some­one like Owen Far­rell the chance to kick penal­ties and ease the pres­sure the French are try­ing to build. These lapses are costly, and teams like Eng­land know it is a weak­ness -- and so does Noves.

France have won very lit­tle at in­ter­na­tional or club level in re­cent times. Some will point to Toulon’s three Euro­pean Cup ti­tles, but I dis­count them be­cause they are an in­ter­na­tional side.

Noves has two sea­sons to push France up the world rank­ings. Eng­land just edge it at the mo­ment in the bat­tle of the two big Euro­pean ri­vals, and, de­spite the pres­sure weigh­ing them down dur­ing their record-equalling win­ning run, they still squeezed out a re­sult against the French.

Eng­land hold the cards as reign­ing Six Na­tions cham­pi­ons, but next year’s crunch in Paris will be a bet­ter barom­e­ter of the progress each has made.

Even if Eng­land lose in Ar­gentina. I do not see it damp­en­ing the mind­set of the play­ers in their Lions con­tin­gent, or dam­ag­ing the win­ning record they are build­ing at Twick­en­ham.

They are also at an ad­van­tage go­ing into the 2019 World Cup be­cause of how well Ed­die Jones knows Ja­pan. He knows the ter­ri­tory, in­clud­ing the con­di­tions, the cli­mate and the cul­ture. He has iden­ti­fied al­ready that the grounds in the early part of the tour­na­ment will be more slip­pery and greasy, and that they will be drier in the knock-out stage.

It is an im­por­tant as­set to have a coach with that level of de­tail and knowl­edge, and it should al­low Eng­land to set­tle more quickly than some ri­vals. By that time the 2015 disas­ter will be long for­got­ten by the play­ers, and they will be in a dif­fer­ent coun­try, with a dif­fer­ent coach and a dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment. There should be no hang­over.

PIC­TURE: Getty Images

De­vel­op­ing: Fly-half Camille Lopez could be a dan­ger in Ja­pan 2019

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