World Cup starts here and now is

Jones’s side must turn the po­ten­tial into au­thor­i­ta­tive dis­plays on pitch

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Total Rugby -

Five ma­jor na­tions now stand be­tween Eng­land and the World Cup tro­phy and Ed­die Jones needs his team to show big-game tem­per­a­ment against all of them – start­ing with Ar­gentina to­day. “It’s a bit like a tea bag, isn’t it,” Jones said in Tokyo. “You don’t know how good it is ’til you put it in hot wa­ter.” Given the kick-off­time in Lon­don, the tea will be English Break­fast.

Be­hind the jokey sim­ile, Jones in­sists he is con­fi­dent Eng­land are not prone to un­rav­el­ling in the big­gest matches. “Hun­dred per cent,” he said at the Tokyo Sta­dium. “We’ve worked hard at it. We’ve worked hard on train­ing sit­u­a­tions to equip the play­ers for it and the play­ers have worked hard off the field to han­dle sit­u­a­tions well.”

With Ar­gentina and France now loom­ing in Pool C be­fore the knock­out stage starts, Eng­land’s cam­paign en­ters a tan­ta­lis­ing phase. Bonus-point wins against Tonga and the United States were re­wards for smooth prepa­ra­tion and a re­mark­able depth of tal­ent but now the real World Cup com­mences. Step­ping up has been prob­lem­atic for Eng­land sides over a four-year cy­cle – not only in the 2015 World Cup, where they crashed out at the group stage, but in many Six Na­tions show­downs.

A shadow over Jones’s metic­u­lously or­gan­ised ex­pe­di­tion is the calamity at Twick­en­ham in March when Eng­land led Scot­land 31-0 but ended up draw­ing 38-38: the big­gest points come­back in Test his­tory. An­other omi­nous stat is that Eng­land have lost nine of 15 World Cup matches against the four big south­ern-hemi­sphere na­tions: New Zealand, South Africa, Aus­tralia and Ar­gentina.

Against that Eng­land have won eight of 11 games in 2019 and Jones has fresh­ened up the squad with ea­ger beavers un­tainted by past fail­ures. The back three of Tom Curry, Sam Un­der­hill and Billy Vu­nipola has an av­er­age age below 24 – the low­est in the pro­fes­sional era. Talk of “tight­ness” and “unity” is a rit­ual of World Cup build-ups. So far Jones has in­deed es­tab­lished a Zen-like mood in the Eng­land camp. At this level, though, may­hem is only ever one bad half away.

Jones is a World Cup vet­eran who plots and plans in his sleep. But some­times coaches en­counter fault-lines that start to feel con­gen­i­tal. Eas­ily the most fas­ci­nat­ing as­pect of Eng­land’s games against Ar­gentina and France (and be­yond) is whether this tal­ented group can learn to close out big matches when events turn against them. On this stage for­ti­tude is not just about phys­i­cal courage. It means think­ing and ex­e­cut­ing un­der duress.

As Eng­land coach since Fe­bru­ary 2016, Jones has won 36 of his 46 games, los­ing nine. He has been beaten by France, New

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