England must banish World Cup thoughts against Japan in bid to rescue autumn series

England must banish World Cup thoughts against Japan in bid to rescue autumn series

Eddie Jones has warned his England players to mind the gap year. The England head coach reckons the 12-month build-up to next year’s World Cup in France has left every Test nation in a state of flux.

From Covid shutdowns across the globe to Worcester and Wasps hitting the wall at home, enforced isolations and unprecedented situations continue to bite. Jones believes this “messy period” in the run to the World Cup is when Test teams can truly find themselves.

The trouble is, England do not have the luxury afforded to students pressing pause on their education for an impromptu sabbatical. The Test arena’s daily grind is all too real, and all too in England’s face, as Jones and Co found out to their cost in last weekend’s chastening 30-29 home defeat by Argentina.

England let their minds do the wandering last week, with thoughts drifting to the World Cup in France, and they can ill afford the same fate tomorrow. England’s 2022 Test record of five defeats and only four wins makes for concerning reading, even though two of those victories secured a series triumph in Australia.

New Zealand and South Africa are yet to come this autumn, and if that does not concentrate minds, nothing will. Jones believes the World Cup will provide the true barometer of quality.

Eddie Jones believes rugby’s true form teams will not emerge until next year’s World Cup (Getty Images)
Eddie Jones believes rugby’s true form teams will not emerge until next year’s World Cup (Getty Images)

“I think we’ll only see the form teams at the World Cup,” said England’s head coach. “This period now is a really messy period where teams are finding out about themselves. Every country was hit by Covid and we’re only starting to see some of the results now, how you fix teams in different ways.

“Teams have been isolated in Covid, and therefore maybe the strengths of their rugby become their weaknesses. Other teams have had really difficult times for players. Every situation is different and we’re seeing that in teams now. It’ll take 12 months before we really see the form in teams.”

Jones’s logic would be hard to counter, but must also not be used as a safety-net by England now. The taskmaster Australian coach took full responsibility for the defeat by Argentina, where he conceded thoughts shifted too far to long-term planning for next year’s World Cup. England are hatching a bespoke set of plans they believe will help them crack the World Cup in France.

England let their minds do the wandering last week, with thoughts drifting to the World Cup in France, and they can ill afford the same fate tomorrow

Protecting those blueprints cannot leave them walking on eggshells at Twickenham again, however, and so both performance and result must improve this weekend. Captain Owen Farrell believes any backline synch issues are not about his nascent partnership with Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith, but a wider initiative.

“As simply as I can put it, we’ve worked on a lot, but all we are trying to do in the end is make good decisions; the right decisions,” said Farrell. “It’s about letting go that bit more, probably not worrying about everything as much and trying to be as free as possible but also in control of the next moment.”