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.