Eddie Jones has embraced a contrast of styles after England were drawn alongside Argentina and Japan in what he views as the most captivating group of the 2023 World Cup.
Europe’s dominant force of the past year will also face Oceania 1 and Americas 2 in Pool D when regional qualifying for the global showpiece in France is finished, with Tonga and Canada most likely to fill the vacancies.
Awaiting in the quarter-finals are most likely either Wales or Australia with England potentially repeating their march to last year’s World Cup final when they faced the Wallabies, New Zealand and South Africa on successive weekends.
First, however, they must navigate a pool containing resurgent Argentina, who finished second in the recent Tri Nations after producing a historic first victory over the All Blacks, and a swashbuckling Japan side positioned 10th in the global rankings.
“Argentina have a great World Cup record and Japan are the most improving rugby nation in the world, so it’s going to be a great challenge to see who gets through the pool,” said Jones.
“Japan will be tough because they play the game differently. We don’t get many chances to play against teams like Japan so we’re going to have to be really well prepared.
“With them you have the contrast of Argentina who played probably the most physical game of rugby we saw all 2020, against the All Blacks.
“If you throw in Tonga who have caused some of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, it’s a tough old pool.
“It is probably the most contrasting pool in terms of styles and philosophy, which is what makes it the most interesting.”
For England not to advance into the last eight would be a seismic shock and bigger challenges await in the knockout stage in the form of the Wallabies and Wales – unless either of them are ambushed by Fiji.
“Australia have a great coach in Dave Rennie and they have some good young players coming through,” Jones said.
“Wales are going through that sticky period of having a successful coach (Warren Gatland) for such a long period of time and now a new coach (Wayne Pivac).
“They are changing their style a bit to a more attacking style which tends to loosen up your game a bit, but they have plenty of time to get it right so we’ll worry about them further down the track.”
England bounced back from their mauling by South Africa in the 2019 World Cup final by winning the Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup, with their only defeat endured in Paris at the start of the year.
“We had nine new caps in 2020, so that’s a good progression for us. And we are going through a rebuilding phase at the moment,” Jones said.
“The young guys have got to keep working hard. You know, sometimes in England they can get too far ahead of themselves, too quickly, so we have got to make sure they keep working hard, keep making sure they become a better player and then we’ll have great competition.
“This year has been satisfactory. We won nine out of 10 games, but never played at our best, so that’s exciting. It’s a great opportunity to keep improving.”