CHRIS FOY: Eddie Jones and England will already be looking at thundering their way into the 2023 Rugby World Cup semi-finals after a favourable pool draw against Japan and Argentina
- Eddie Jones’ England could face Wales, Australia or Fiji in the quarter-finals
- England thumped Australia 40-16 in 2019 and Wales have had a wretched 2020
- Meanwhile, France will face New Zealand for the fourth time in five World Cups
Eddie Jones won’t have any complaints about Monday’s World Cup draw as England have been given a promising pathway towards the later stages of the 2023 tournament.
Much can change between now and then, but the national team are likely to be firm favourites to finish top of the pile in Pool D.
If they manage to do so, they would be in line for a quarter-final showdown with either Wales, Australia or possibly Fiji – whichever of those countries finishes as runners-up in Pool C.
Kyle Sinckler scored a rare try as England beat Australia 40-16 at last year’s Rugby World Cup
Last year, en route to the final in the Far East, England dismantled the Wallabies in the last eight stage, with a thumping 40-16 victory in Oita.
In all under their Australian head coach, the Red Rose side have beaten their rivals from Down Under seven times out of seven.
More likely perhaps is a clash with Wales, but that would hold no fear either based on the latest evidence, as Wayne Pivac’s regime has been undermined by a damaging sequence of early defeats.
From this distance, Jones will look ahead to the prospect of his team thundering into the semi-finals in France, determined to go one better than they did in 2019. He will respect the pool opposition but expect England to be equipped to overcome them.
Japan are the second seeds, but their outlook is unclear. The Brave Blossoms captured the hearts of the host nation with their dazzling wins against Ireland and Scotland last year, but their preparations for the next global showpiece could be hampered by their status as outsiders, in terms of the established annual tournaments.
Wales were fifth in the Six Nations under Wayne Pivac and had a tough Autumn Nations Cup
Unless the Japanese are hurriedly integrated into the Rugby Championship, which appears unlikely for now, they will have to rely on a patchy fixture list. Their emergence as a force could be threatened by a lack of regular exposure to top-end competition.
In contrast, Argentina are now established within the southern hemisphere hierarchy and recently claimed their first victory over the All Blacks.
But the Covid-linked demise of their Super Rugby franchise, the Jaguares, could harm the Pumas’ hopes of building on that milestone achievement. They have the potential to challenge England, but further improvements are required.
Argentina celebrate after scoring their only try in an historic 25-15 victory over the All Blacks
The remaining teams in Pool D are yet to be confirmed, but Oceania 1 will be either Samoa or Tonga – both dangerous but operating with chronically limited resources – while Americas 2 could be the USA, Canada or Uruguay. None of those sides should trouble the pool’s top three.
Elsewhere, the marquee fixture of the pool round is certain to be hosts France against New Zealand.
When the schedule is confirmed, let’s hope that is the opening match as it would ignite the whole event.
New Zealand hammered France 62-13 in the 2015 Rugby World Cup quarter-finals in Cardiff
By 2023, France could have become tournament favourites, so a showdown with the All Blacks will be an early indication about the overall balance of power.
While Wales must take on familiar foes in Australia and Fiji – in a three-way tussle to qualify for the knock-out rounds – the draw has not been kind to Scotland.
Gregor Townsend’s men are in with reigning champions South Africa and Ireland, with a daunting task on their hands.
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