World Cup starts here and now is
Jones’s side must turn the potential into authoritative displays on pitch
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