Rugby World Cup 2019: Three reasons England can win the World Cup

Jonny May

Japan will have the eyes of the world upon it this Friday as the Rugby World Cup 2019 kicks off.

This is rugby’s ultimate prize. When you think of the all-time greats of the game, your mind goes to the sublime Kiwi sides of 2011 and 2015, Martin Johnson’s white orcs and ‘that’ Johnny Wilkinson drop goal of 2003, the hard-as-nails Springbok pack with the likes of Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield in 2007; Larkham, Gregan and Burke with the Aussies in ’99, and the nation-uniting 1995 South African side with François Pienaar receiving the William Web Ellis Cup from Nelson Mandela. The World Cup is rugby’s route to immortality.

England take the field against Tonga in their opening game on Sunday, but what chance do Eddie Jones’ men have of winning the trophy? In my opinion, this is their best opportunity since that 2003 vintage. There are a number of factors why England could win – and as many why they won’t – but here are three key reasons why 2019 could be England’s year.

Who are the number one side in the world?
Coming into the tournament, there is usually a clear favourite to win the World Cup, and they are usually wearing all black. 2019 is a little different – you would probably still have the Kiwis as the stand-out side, but it is not as clear cut as in years past.

New Zealand have had an indifferent 12 months by their own high standards – third in the Rugby Championship with a loss to Australia and a draw with South Africa – they no longer sit atop the world rankings. That was Wales for a short period, who climbed there off the back of a 14-test winning run which included a Six Nations Grand Slam, before being overtaken by Ireland. The Irish go into the World Cup as ‘officially’ the number one side courtesy of back-to-back warm up game wins over the Welsh and a strong Autumn where they beat New Zealand for the second time in three meetings. But then England have beaten Ireland twice in a row – home and away – beaten the Welsh (and lost twice to them), the Aussies and South Africa at Twickenham.

No wonder the top of the rankings has seen more change in the past month than the previous decade.

There is no clear favourite for Japan 2019. At least five teams go into the competition knowing they are capable of beating any of the others should they meet in the knock-out stages. No hoodoo, no fear – this tournament is there for the taking.

Japan is ‘neutral’ territory
This isn’t really true of course. Japan will be representing themselves with great pride as the hosts of the tournament; however, for all the progress in recent years and valiant play on the pitch, no one truly expects them to win the trophy – memories of the Brighton miracle aside.

There will be no home advantage for any of the tier one sides, something which is always a helping hand in professional sport.

In fact, if any of the top teams is getting a boost from Japan it might be England, courtesy of Eddie Jones. A national hero thanks to his work as coach of the Japanese team and the 2015 victory over South Africa; the former Suntory Sungoliath coach knows Japan’s culture and climate and that experience will be invaluable to his squad.

England has world-class talent
For a long time, England have been looking for world class players. Players that if rugby-playing aliens invaded tomorrow and challenged the Earth to a game, like some oval-ball version of Space Jam, would be called upon to defend our planet’s honour.

The theoretical target set by the likes of Sir Clive Woodward was to have five such players in the team going into the World Cup. Going into 2015, arguably only Mako Vunipola was worthy of discussing in that context. In 2015, had the aliens landed you would probably just have picked the All Blacks team and tried to shoehorn David Pocock in somewhere.

Four years on, and England now have a healthy number of truly world-class players. Alongside Mako, his brother Billy, Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell, Manu Tuilagi and Jonny May would all have a shot at making a world XV. While the likes of Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson would also be part of the conversation.

This team, in my view, is comfortably the best England side since 2003. There have been good sides and great moments over the years since – reaching the final in 2007, beating Australia away in 2010, New Zealand at Twickenham in 2012 – but with hindsight they were anomalies or false dawns.

Looking at this England team now, and it is tough to see the glaring weaknesses previous generations possessed. From one to 15, they are stocked with powerful ball carriers – something that was missing as recently as two years ago – their forwards are comfortable with ball in hand, they have a rock-solid set piece, genuine ball-scavenging opensides to call upon, a blend of creativity and brawn in the centres, and guile and gas in equal measure in the back three.

There have been tough times along the way; an exhausted 2018 team finishing fifth in the Six Nations and losing 2-1 to South Africa away. It has taken some very late changes by Jones – jettisoning the likes of Chris Robshaw and Mike Brown, moving back to the Ford/Farrell axis, trusting the inexperience of Tom Curry or Joe Cokanasiga – but England suddenly look like a very, very good team.

Come Sunday and four years of hard work will suddenly be exposed. Jones had a plan and he has stuck to it – will it bring home England’s second world cup of 2019? For the first time in many years, I not only have hope but belief it will.

By Henry Ker

14 thoughts on “Rugby World Cup 2019: Three reasons England can win the World Cup

  1. Well imo we would have a far better chance of winning if we had a balanced squad. I don’t know if anyone (Don?) knows the average split in numbers between backs and forwards in the top 10 teams? But in so far as I know we are the only team with more backs than forwards including the most back 3 players. I think this is a big mistake as our biggest issue has been the breakdown so if we have injuries we could end up with a back row of say Ludlum Billy and Lawes which means we would probably lose. We have several back row players ie Curry, Underhill and Billy who have been very injury prone but they are also essential so Eddie would want them to remain in squad to recover. Taking McConnochie seems like a mistake and it would have been way more sensible to have had another back row player instead. This is compounded by the fact that our back 3 has been selected for its ability to attack rather than its ability to defend.
    We can’t attack if we can’t get the ball and have our attack ball turned over. We could have skimped on centres as well. Balance between backs and forwards is all wrong.

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    1. Ask and you shall recieve
      18/13 split
      JAP, RUS, ITA, NAM, TON, USA, WAL, URU
      17/14 split
      SAM, IRE, SCO, RSA, NZL, CAN, ENG, ARG, FRA, FJI, GEO

      Looks like all T1 teams (except Wales are also on a 17/14 split

        1. Sorry just realised I am wrong! We do have 17 forwards and 14 backs!
          Shows what having that moron Bojo as pm can do.to.the brain!
          Still don’t like the fact we only have 5 players in the back row.

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      1. To be more specific FR, SR, BR, SH, FH, CE, OB breakdowns below
        JAP: 8,4,6,3,2,3,5
        IRE: 8,4,7,2,3,4,5
        SCO: 8,4,5,3,2,4,5
        SAM: 8,4,5,3,3,3,5
        RUS: 8,4,6,2,3,3,5
        NZL: 8,4,5,3,2,4,5
        RSA: 8,4,5,3,3,3,5
        ITA: 9,4,5,3,2,3,5
        CAN: 8,3,6,3,2,4,5
        NAM: 8,3,7,3,1,4,5
        ENG: 8,4,5,2,2,4,6
        FRA: 8,3,6,3,2,3,6
        ARG: 8,3,6,2,2,5,5
        USA: 8,4,6,3,2,3,5
        TON: 9,3,6,3,2,3,5
        AUS: 8,4,5,2,2,3,7
        WAL: 8,4,6,3,2,3,5
        FIJ: 8,4,5,3,2,5,4
        GEO: 8,4,5,3,3,4,4
        URU: 8,3,7,3,2,3,5
        Yes England may have stacked the outside backs but more at the expense of a halfback than a back row forward

        1. Wales Ireland France and Argentina all have more back row players than us! Only France has 6 OB and Australia have 7. Would rather have more back row players or another scrum half!
          Thanks Leon!!

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            1. My great concern is consistency.On our day we can beat anyone but that only happens occasionally.Most performances are average and a few poor.Above average too rare.For that reason I can’t see is giving 3 winning performances in 1/4 semi and final

  2. Dunno about the greats so much. For instance the ‘sublime’ NZ scraped it v Fr in 2011, as did England in 03 & SA in 1995, in extra time with Jeff Wilson spewing in the background. Also what of the Oz 91 side? My point is that there’s much retro hype about the aforementioned. A few of these final results might well have been reversed, so the current narrative could have been so different.

    Regards clear favs? For clarity only, the reality is that NZ are according to Betfred, World Rugby, Stuff & so on. Although, BTW, the latter also reckon on NZ NOT winning it? Mainly depends on what happens on the pitch, on the day. All the reasons, odds, are ultimately opinion based. Ok, with stats, algorithms, scenarios thrown in.

    The No.1 thing is something if a distorted distraction. The SH truncated their RC & so attained less pts than the Nth. To read too much into this situation is to be subjective.

    The neutral grounds? They’ll be AWAY games for all apart from Japan. Therefore a possible SH advantage? They play away from home more.. like yrly. The Jones having lived in Japan stuff? Just stuff. Unless teams have lived, played there, stories of same seem of little value. More distractions?

    W class talentented players? Well, plenty teams can claim this accolade. Often from & for home consumption? Few define it, but many speculate on what is is. In the end though, it’s likely to be a W class team & how it plays on each day , that defines & produces the end result.

    The rest is largely rhetoric to sell inches & time.

  3. Reckon luck will play a big part in terms of who ends up winning. We know that there is substantial divergence in how referees interpret offences where the difference between a yellow or a red card can determine the outcome of the game.
    Injuries to key players will also be a big factor.

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  4. Don’t know Bolter. Didn’t check. Prob top 5/6 relevant comparisons. AB split 17 fwds/14. Breakdown under ‘NZ contender ‘article if interested. 5 props, loose fwds, 2 fly1/2’s. Otherwise most positions seem covered. Unclear why Jones didn’t pick specific 8 cover. Kvesic, Morgan? Maybe another prop for MV? Centre cover ok though isn’t it? Farrell, Tui, Slade, Francis, Daly? Agree McConnochie (& Francis?) a luxury. Only an issue if injuries occur. OTOH, teams can sustain them. If BV gets crocked, it could disproportionately affect England. Firstly due lack of cover. Secondly, psychologically, it could unsettle them due to over reliance on him. Teams at some point may require an element of luck to progress in a WC. Have to wait & see how it pans out I guess Bolter.

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