If England do reach the quarter-finals, they will be physically and mentally prepared. Physically being the operative word. Tonga, USA, Argentina and France will test Eddie Jones’ men, as the England Rugby World Cup team negotiate the ‘Pool of Trouble’.
It all kicks off for England on Sunday 22 September against the fearsome Tongans. Charlie Inglefield previews the teams in England’s group (Pool C).
England v Tonga (Sunday 22 September)
Such is the reality of the ‘lesser’ nations that twenty of Tonga’s best players could not afford to go to the Rugby World Cup. Toutai Kefu, Tonga’s coach said as much this week when stating that the allowance was £500 per player per week. It’s a brutal reality which has to be addressed going forward.
Kefu, an outstanding Wallaby and World Cup winner himself, has not had it easy with Tonga’s preparations. Their last warm-up game ended in a 92-7 thrashing at the hands of the All Blacks. That said, they have performed admirably in past World Cups. In 2011, Tonga sprung a huge surprise when turning over France in the pool stages.
They are capable and they will be physical as befitting the Pacific Islander way. Tonga will rely on their experienced players like Siale Piutau, the captain and Steve Mafi. They also have Racing 92 prop Ben Tameifuna, and Newcastle scrum-half Sonatane Takulua to call upon. On the subject of Ben Tameifuna, he is massive and relishes putting in a hit or two.
England can expect a brutal opening twenty minutes against Tonga. But, Tonga should not be able to last against an English outfit which has so many attacking options. Eddie Jones will want his pack to run the Tongan forwards off their feet and let the backs capitalise in the second half.
Verdict: Comfortable England win
England v USA (Thursday 26 September)
There is no question that the USA is the coming force in world rugby. A media push, some cash and good rugby men like Dan Lyle and Alex Corbisiero heading the coverage, are seeing to that. That said, the Eagles are a bit of an unknown quantity going into Japan. They performed creditably in 2015 and one cannot question some of the talents they have in their ranks. They are led by former Cardiff & Leicester man, Blaine Scully and AJ MacGinty is an excellent fly-half for Sale Sharks.
They will certainly miss the retired Samu Manoa, who was such a physical presence for the Eagles and a cult hero for Northampton. That said the Americans will have size and plenty of it. Greg Peterson of Bordeaux Bègles is a big unit with a great rugby beard and Joe Taufete’e is one of the biggest hookers in world rugby.
The question mark with the US Eagles – and Tonga for that matter – is whether they have the engine to live with the big guns over eighty minutes? The USA will look to put their mark on England and perform as they did in the pool stages in 2007 but no more.
Verdict: Comfortable England win
England v Argentina (Saturday 5 October)
The Pumas have copped a bit of flack after another disappointing Rugby Championship campaign. Heavy defeats to New Zealand, Australia and South Africa have dented their momentum. It’s difficult to know how one rates Argentina’s chances because the Jaguares reached their first even Super XV Final. What is certain is how Argentina have traditionally performed in World Cups. They are the one side nobody likes facing – just ask France and Ireland from recent campaigns.
Arguably the strength of the Jaguares is also their weakness at international level. The southern hemisphere teams know what is coming their way. Given that the majority of the Jaguares team make up Argentina’s First XV, there are few surprises. The absence of Santiago Cordero is bizarre. The little magician lit up the World Cup in 2015 and he has that x-factor that Argentina desperately needs.
Equally so, Facundo Isa, who is an outstanding backrower.
Looking ahead to the England clash, put simply, games between these two are tense and close. The set-piece will be a mighty battle and England have to win that to then bring their big guns outwide into play. I would still expect England to come out top in the final quarter.
Verdict: Tough England win
Final pool game – England v France (Saturday 12 October)
Which French team will we see in Japan? It is a question I don’t think France know themselves. There is so much politics swirling around French rugby at the moment. What we do know is that for the first time in years, France has picked a squad which makes sense. The French have some terrific talent in Japan, Damian Penaud, Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont to name but three. They also have the necessary experience to call upon with Louis Picamoles, Guilhem Guirado and Medard taking part. The introduction of coach Fabien Galthie will ensure that France’s heavy pack of forwards will be as fit as they have ever been.
The million-dollar question is, whether they can get themselves to a level of consistency to go all the way?
France is still capable of finding that one remarkable performance to topple anyone on their day. And that includes New Zealand. But, they are also equally as capable of producing a dross eighty minutes and lose. This is why trying to predict how Les Bleues will get on in a World Cup is so wonderfully difficult. 2019 is no different.
The feeling of many is that France could lose to Argentina but, produce that performance which could topple England in the last pool match.
Verdict: France to pull off a shock win
England should have enough talent and power to top Pool C yet, France relish playing England on neutral territory. That fixture is monumental, and will validate that sides credentials in Japan.
In this reporters opinion, that is where a surprise could happen in the supposed ‘Pool of Trouble’.
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