Jeff Probyn

The Rugby Paper's Essential - World Cup Guide 2019 (Irish Edition) - - CONTENTS - JEFF PROBYN

Ed­die Jones’ ex­pe­ri­ence of Ja­pan will give Eng­land a ma­jor boost

Eng­land coach Ed­die Jones knows all about Ja­panese con­di­tions

With the World Cup rapidly ap­proach­ing, I can’t help think­ing how much has changed and what hasn’t since the first edi­tion in 1987. An­nounced with 16 par­tic­i­pat­ing na­tions, it was seen as a bit of a silly idea, par­tic­u­larly by the RFU who felt it would un­der­mine the value of be­ing capped for your coun­try.

Un­til then, play­ers were only capped in games against the foun­da­tion na­tions as the stan­dard of play out­side the top tier was seen as so poor as to not war­rant the award­ing of caps. As a re­sult of the ad­di­tion of eight coun­tries from out­side the foun­da­tion na­tions in the new com­pe­ti­tion, the RFU agreed they would take part, but not award caps for any of the games.

How­ever, this changed when all the other par­tic­i­pat­ing foun­da­tion unions agreed to cap play­ers for all World Cup games, which was then adopted for all in­ter­na­tional games be­tween all na­tions.

This ex­plains the dra­matic in­crease in the num­ber of caps play­ers now have in their in­ter­na­tional ca­reers com­pared to be­fore the World Cup era.

Back in ’87, the prepa­ra­tions were pretty min­i­mal with the odd ex­tra train­ing ses­sion and the in­tro­duc­tion of Olympic bob­sleigh coach Tom Mcnab.

I must ad­mit Tom’s ad­di­tion was a bit of a shock as we all thought ‘how can a bob­sleigh coach know how to help to change rugby?’ But it turned out he did hap­pen to play a bit of rugby!

He in­tro­duced a proper run­ning style and some ply­o­met­ric train­ing, but wasn’t re­ally given enough time to make a big im­pact.

Eng­land were ex­pe­ri­enced am­a­teurs and for the du­ra­tion of the cup seem­ingly lived the life of a pro­fes­sional player, fo­cus­ing just

on rugby, diet and train­ing.

Against all ex­pec­ta­tions, the cup was a suc­cess, so the next one was planned to be held in the north­ern hemi­sphere, mainly in Eng­land, but with games held in all of the Five Na­tions, with the fi­nal be­ing played at Twick­en­ham.

Prepa­ra­tions were much more pro­fes­sional with Rex Hazel­dine of Lough­bor­ough Col­lege at the helm from an early stage.

As a re­sult, we were prob­a­bly the fittest Eng­land side to ever take to the field un­til the pro­fes­sional era, which en­abled us to reach the fi­nal and boost view­ing fig­ures to a new high.

From the start in 1987 un­til now, Eng­land have, for some rea­son, never reached their po­ten­tial, apart from when win­ning in 2003 where we went into the tour­na­ment as favourites, ranked at num­ber one in the world.

De­spite the big­gest player base and the most money, Eng­land have won just one fi­nal hav­ing made three, were fourth once, were knocked out in the quar­ter-fi­nals three times and are cur­rently the only host na­tion not to have made the knock-out stages.

This could well be be­cause of the RFU habit of al­low­ing coaches only one World Cup. But this time it is di er­ent.

The World Cup in Ja­pan is unique in the his­tory of the com­pe­ti­tion as it is the first time it has been played out­side of the foun­da­tion unions.

Sadly, the RWC still re­mains pretty much a closed T1 com­pe­ti­tion, with lit­tle or no hope that a T2 team will man­age to make it to the semi-fi­nals let alone the fi­nal.

With each Pool containing two of the eight foun­da­tion unions, it would mean a T2 na­tion beat­ing at least three T1 na­tions in quick suc­ces­sion which would be al­most im­pos­si­ble - but I have no doubt there will be some up­sets and sur­prises along the way. It will be those up­sets and sur­prises that will make this cup the big­gest and best, even be­fore the fi­nal kicks o .

Ja­pan is a di er­ent and di cult en­vi­ron­ment to play in phys­i­cally to where the cup has been held be­fore and so this raises a num­ber of di er­ent chal­lenges for the play­ers and coaches.

Eng­land have in Ed­die Jones not just an ex­pe­ri­enced coach who has taken teams to World Cups be­fore, but some­one who has lived and worked in Ja­pan.

Jones should know the phys­i­cal requiremen­ts for play­ers play­ing in the Ja­panese en­vi­ron­ment dur­ing the au­tumn months of the year, which, in turn, should give Eng­land an ad­van­tage over their Pool op­po­nents.

As usual since the first World Cup, the team to beat will be New Zealand and, although they haven’t al­ways made the fi­nal, they re­main the team that no-one wants to face, par­tic­u­larly in the knock-out stages.

How­ever, look­ing at the Pool per­mu­ta­tions, it looks like the only time Eng­land would be likely to meet the All Blacks will be if both can reach the semi-fi­nals and, by that stage, it is any­body’s game.

Eng­land have never beaten New Zealand in a World Cup match but will fancy their chances given the rise of north­ern hemi­sphere rugby against the south.

Over the last few years we have seen the Six Na­tions teams gain ground and claim more wins against their south­ern hemi­sphere ri­vals, mak­ing this World Cup the most un­pre­dictable since the tour­na­ment be­gan.

Those im­prove­ments mean that for the first time since 2003 there is a re­ally good chance that it will be a north­ern hemi­sphere team that brings the tro­phy home – and I’m hop­ing it’s Eng­land.

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