Rugby World Cup – Group C preview: Expectations high for England in group of death

Dubbed the ‘group of death’ of this year’s World Cup, Group C features three Tier 1 sides in England, France and Argentina, as well as Tonga and the USA. Expectations are high for England following their horror show in 2015. Jamie Braidwood previews.

England

World Cup winners in 2003, and the last country from the northern hemisphere to lift the trophy, England travel to Japan seeking redemption. The memories of 2015, in which England crashed out of their own World Cup in the group stage, still hurt, but England now have the chance to put it right and have improved since then. They are an excellent side on their day, packed with power and physicality, and enter the tournament as one of the favourites. Anything less than reaching the final will be seen as a disappointment.

 

The coach

Eddie Jones, the mastermind of Japan’s famous victory against South Africa four years ago, was tasked with managing England’s rebuild post-2015. But two excellent years, in which England won 18 matches in a row and became the No. 1 team in the world, were soured by a horrific 2018, leading Jones to shake up his England squad with the selection of several inexperienced names in favour of players such as Mike Brown and Danny Care. Jones is a divisive and often perplexing character and his legacy will be defined by how England perform over the next six weeks.

England head coach Eddie Jones looked relaxed at training ahead of the World Cup, but will be under pressure throughout the tournament (Picture via @EnglandRugby)

Key player 

England are a different beast with a fit and firing Billy Vunipola. Along with brother Mako, the No. 8 was central to England’s most impressive victory of 2019, their 32-20 win over Ireland in Dublin to open the Six Nations championship. Vunipola with Manu Tuilagi at centre and Joe Cokanasiga on the wing turns England into a frightening prospect offensively, as few countries can match their power. Aside from that, England can boast one of the deepest and most impressive squads in Japan, even if they look short at scrum-half and hooker. Expect Tom Curry and Sam Underhill to play a key role either side of Vunipola in the back row.

 

France

Surprise runners up in 2011 and the last team to beat New Zealand at a Rugby World Cup in 2007, France have significantly regressed since those glory days and have fallen to as low as tenth in the world in recent years. With Les Blues hosting the World Cup in 2023, France have turned towards youth in an attempt to bring through the talent of their excellent youth sides, which won the Under 20s World Cups in 2018 and 2019. Expectations are therefore low for France in Japan, but they are still expected to pip Argentina to second in the Group C.

 

The coach

Jacques Brunel was the man tasked with steadying the ship following the sacking Guy Noves at the end of 2017. Despite establishing young stars such as Romain Ntamack, Demba Bamba, Gregory Alldritt and Damien Penaud into the team, it’s hard to argue that France have improved since Brunel took charge. Their 2019 Six Nations were a bit of a horror show, losing at home to Wales despite leading 16-0 at half-time and being thrashed 44-8 by England in an erratic, error-strewn performance at Twickenham. Brunel can’t afford a similar performance from his young team against England in Yokohama on Oct. 12.

 

000_15l0ec_0

Ntamack has already played eight times for his country at the age of 20 (Credit: AFP)

Key player

The son of former France rugby legend Emile, Romain Ntamack is seen as the great young hope of this Les Blues team. The 20-year-old will be France’s starting fly-half in Japan, which is a great responsibility to place on such young shoulders. However, Ntamack showed during the 2019 Six Nations that he will not shy from the challenge and the No. 10 was excellent against Scotland in France’s win at the Stade de France in February.

Argentina

The Pumas have spectacularly overachieved at the World Cup in recent years, reaching the semi-finals in 2007 and 2015, as well as the quarter-finals in 2011. Their comprehensive win against Ireland four years ago to reach the semi-finals was one of the shocks of the tournament, and Argentina could be well placed once again to capitalize on being drawn alongside a poor France team and reach the knockout stages for the fourth year in a row.

The majority of Argentina’s 31-man squad play their rugby domestically, although fly-halfs Benjamín Urdapilleta and Nicolás Sánchez (the World Cup’s leading points scorer in 2015) and captain Pablo Matera appear in the Top 14 in France. Meanwhile, at the age of 36, Juan Manuel Leguizamon is set for his fourth World Cup.

USA

usarugby-800x498.jpg

USA are looking to make it out of their pool for the first time

Tonga are the only one of the Pacific Islands (also including Fiji and Samoa) to yet to reach the knockout stages of the Rugby World Cup. Their best chance came in 2011 when they upset France but also lost to Canada and ended up missing out on qualification. They have only secured two more wins against Tier 1 opposition since – against Scotland in 2012 and Italy in 2016 – and although there is a slim chance history repeats itself against the French, it is far more likely that Tonga head home early.

Tonga

Tonga are the only one of the Pacific Islands (also including Fiji and Samoa) to yet to reach the knockout stages of the Rugby World Cup. Their best chance came in 2011 when they upset France but also lost to Canada and ended up missing out on qualification. They have only secured two more wins against Tier 1 opposition since – against Scotland in 2012 and Italy in 2016 – and although there is a slim chance history repeats itself against the French, it is far more likely that Tonga head home early.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s