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England's Group Stage opponents in Japan

By Lee Jackson - Rugby Writer, September 6, 2019

England will be lining up in the so-called Group of Death in Japan. The Red Rose have to contend with not only France but Argentina as well in the battle for the two automatic qualification places. Also joining them in Pool C are USA and Tonga.

So what exactly could England find themselves up in the first round? Let’s take a closer look at the opposition that Eddie Jones’ England will be facing.

Tonga

Date v England:

Sunday 22 September, 2019 at 11:15 am (UK Time)

Tonga Preview

Tonga, who are ranked 15th in the world, have never been past the group stage of a World Cup and this will be their eighth appearance in the Finals. Tonga’s warm-ups came at the Pacific Nations Cup which ended in early August. In their three matches there, they lost against Samoa, heavily against Japan and then beat Canada. Tonga hold a P2 L2 record against England, the first of which was a 101-10 defeat in 1999.

Head Coach

Toutai Kefu has been in place as Tonga head coach since 2016. Under him, they secured their first, and so far only win against a Tier 1 nation, a 19-17 win over Italy in November 2016.

Premiership players to watch

Newcastle Falcons’ scrum-half Sonatane Takulua is one Tonga’s most experienced players. Other Premiership players in the Tonga squad are Exeter’s Elivs Tiaone, Onehunga Havili, Bath’s Cooper Vuna and Saracen’s Sione Vailanu.

Key Player

Tonga’s captain Siale Piutau, is their main man. The centre just needs to find a way to keep his team motivated because, on the surface of this, it’s a massively tough group stage draw for them. Piutau’s experience is going to be crucial in holding them together.

England’s Tactical Battle

Tonga are a quick side through the halfbacks. So that could be an area in which they decide to take on the English. Tonga aren’t likely going to have the power to challenge the English forwards, so a high-tempo running game will suit the southern hemisphere team. The difficulty for them will be securing that quality ball needed though to execute such a plan. England are probably not going to surrender much possession to them.

 

USA

Date v England:

Thursday 26 September, 2019 at 11:45 am (UK Time)

USA Preview

Four years at England 2015, the USA went home with no points from their four World Cup matches played. In their history, they have won just three of their previous 25 matches. During that history, they have faced England three times and have lost all three of those encounters. The Americans were on a six-match losing streak against Tier 1 nations, before securing a summer victory over Scotland last year. At this year’s Pacific Nations Cup, the USA finished third behind Japan and Fiji.

Head Coach

The Eagles have South African Gary Gold in charge. The former interim Newcastle Falcons and Bath coach took over last year ahead of the 2018 June Internationals, of which the USA won all three matches including their 30-29 success over Scotland.

Premiership players to watch

The USA have a handful of Premiership players in their ranks, including London Irish’s Bryce Campbell and Saracens’ prop Titi Lamositele. Newcastle lock Greg Peterson and Sale’s AJ MacGinty make the squad, along with Harlequins' Paul Lasike and Worcester’s Joe Taufete’e.

Key Player

Fly half AJ MacGinty, who has been with Premiership side Sale since 2016, racked up 25 points for the Americans at the last World Cup. There is going to be a lot of pressure on him for distribution and in trying to get the Americans moving with any kind of forward momentum, even if it’s only with the boot against the stronger nations.

England’s Tactical Battle 

The USA are a good Sevens nations, but that doesn't mean a great deal of running is expected from them at the World Cup. England are going to have a huge tactical advantage over the Americans in keeping the ball contained within the power of the forwards. The Red Rose should dominate all of the set plays, limiting the time the USA are going to get on the ball. It is going to be a simple possession game that is likely to get England bountiful rewards in this fixture.

 

Argentina

Date v England:

Saturday 5 October, 2019 at 9:00 am (UK Time)

Argentina Preview

The Pumas need little introduction of course and they are going to pose the first big questions of England’s World Cup 2019 campaign. In terms of competitiveness, Argentina had a fantastic Rugby Championship tournament in August. They finished bottom of the pile, but pushed New Zealand and Australia hard, suffering only four-point and six-point defeats respectively. Argentina are a tough, physical side and will be ready to grind up front against England. Argentina have finished in the top four in two of the last three World Cups. They are not to be taken lightly.

Head Coach 

Argentinean Mario Ledesma has been in charge of the national side since 2018. This is his first international head coach job but was Australia’s forwards coach between 2015 and 2017. His record is W2 L7 with the Pumas but the increased competitiveness in this season's Rugby Championship is a huge step forward for them.

Premiership players to watch

Just one Premiership player has been named in the Argentina World Cup squad and that is Saracens’ prop Juan Figallo, who has 30 caps for his country.

Key Player

You look towards big players like captain Pablo Matera and Facundo Isa as key players operating in that very strong Argentine pack. However, it is Federico Sanchez who needs to turn up in Japan for the Pumas. The Stade Francais fly-half is their kicker and when it comes to their big group clashes against England and France, he is going to need to hold his cool. Every point from his boot is going to be crucial. Distribution from him is going to be key for them too, because Sanchez has good running options in Emiliano Boffelli and Santiago Cordero.

England’s Tactical Battle

Eddie Jones will know what is coming from Argentina. The Pumas pride themselves on their forward work and during their 16-20 loss to New Zealand in July, they were outstanding. Argentina didn’t concede a single point in the second half of that fixture. So it will be up front where they are going to take England on. The Red Rose, of course, are good enough to match them there, but Jones may see some advantage getting the ball out quickly and using the likes of Manu Tuilagi and Jonathan Joseph to batter through Argentina’s defensively-weaker backs.

 

France

Date v England:

Saturday 12 October, 2019 at 9:15 pm (UK Time)

France Preview

The French are seen as the biggest threat to England’s expected dominance in Pool C . While that may be debatable considering Argentina are in this so-called Group of Death, there’s a decent chance that this meeting between England and France will be a group decider. In six of their eight previous World Cup appearances, the French have finished in the top four. Three of those finishes were as runners up. Four years ago France were hammered in the quarter-finals by New Zealand. After another disappointing Six Nations campaign what threat will they bring to the table?

Head Coach

Jacques Brunel is the French head coach and has been in place since 2017. There has been just the six wins in 18 matches for Les Bleus since Brunel took charge. He has a P2 W1 L1 record against England and a P1 W1 record against Argentina.

Premiership players to watch

There are no English Premiership players in the French squad, with every player for them being domestically based.

Key Player

Louis Picamoles is arguably still the pick of the French forwards. The back row star is the most experienced player in the French World Cup squad and if for nothing more than stability and leadership, they need him getting as much game time as possible. Picamoles was part of the French squad which lost the 2011 Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand.

England’s Tactical Battle

In February when England hosted France in the Six Nations the Red Rose posted a massive 44-8 win over Les Bleus. The key to that? Quite simply, speed. England secured so much good early ball in the forward that they were just able to spray the ball around. Five of their six tries in the match were scored by a back, with winger Jonny May scoring a hat-trick. England should dominate the front-row battle. Also, the French have defensive weaknesses in their backs, so that’s where England, who are W5 L2 in their last seven internationals against France, can exploit their opponents.

 

England’s Group Stage Summary

So it’s the Group of Death for England at the World Cup. They get their two easier games out of the way early, which gives them a good chance to start building momentum. Will they handle the varying degrees of challenges ahead of them in Pool C, to top the section?

Welcome England back to Twickenham in 2020

 

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