Rugby World Cup 2019 profile: England - Red Rose are blossoming in time for Japan

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With the Rugby World Cup just two weeks away, we take a closer look at each of the competing nations. After profiling 17 teams, we continue our series with favourites England.

Eddie Jones refused to get too excited when England chalked up their 24th win from his first 25 matches in charge in February 2018 and did not press the panic button when they lost five successive matches either just nine months later.

It is therefore no surprise to see the Red Rose’s continuous rise from beating the Springboks, Japan and Australia in November, and then suffering a one-point defeat to world champions New Zealand.

A second-place finish in the Six Nations is no mean feat either, especially given they played the most attractive brand of rugby throughout the competition. And, as the saying goes, in a World Cup year, the only thing that matters is the World Cup itself.

But if the recent warm-up matches are anything to go by then Jones has the team peaking like a set of experienced mountaineers inching towards the top of Mount Everest.

The Australian’s record speaks for itself too, with 33 wins, one draw and nine defeats from his 43 matches in charge to date. If his reign was to end tomorrow, his 77 per cent win success rate is the best record for any England head coach.

Their sizzling 57-15 victory over Ireland two weeks ago was seriously impressive, with Manu Tuilagi, Maro Itoje, Kyle Sincker, George Ford and Tom Curry all showcasing their world class abilities.

With France and Argentina struggling for form, England’s World Cup group is starting to look less challenging and, on the back of six straight wins over the Wallabies, two against South Africa and a narrow loss to the All Blacks that could have been a victory, they should travel to Japan fearing nobody.

Their half-backs are excellent, they have a mammoth pack that are capable of bullying even the most industrious of opposition, and they have a back line sprinkled with glittering talent.

Fly-half Ford didn’t put a step wrong during the warm-up matches, but captain Owen Farrell is likely to orchestrate proceedings from number 10 in Japan, with Ben Youngs occupying the scrum-half shirt.

At centre, Tuilagi’s powerful display against Ireland and the creative excellence of Henry Slade suggest it is worth Jones testing out this midfield combination in the first pool match, which will be a tough test against Argentina. Slade’s cleverly weighed kicks and Tuilagi’s brute force would provide England with a strong blend at centre.

Out wide, Elliot Daly will start at full-back with the dynamic duo of Jonny May and Anthony Watson using their pace and quality footwork to trouble opposition tacklers. Daly may be questionable under the high ball but he is tidy at the back and potent going forward.

The only undoing for the England backs is they all have a mistake in their armory, except for a flawless Farrell, and that could cost them in the latter stages of the competition.

Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Sinckler is the starting front row bar any late injuries. If the influential Vunipola has not recovered from a hamstring issue then Joe Marler will wear the number one shirt.

Itoje and George Kruis operate a faultless lineout, and the thought of coming up against this duo will be alarming for most teams, such is their sheer athleticism and voracious work-rate around the paddock.

One of the most dangerous combinations is the back row, and the balance the Red Rose have been able to strike with Curry and Sam Underhill at six and seven is immense.

The scary thing about Curry (21) and Underhill (23) is that they have an extra 20 per cent in the tank against elite opposition. And if Jones opts against starting Underhill, then there is an equally tenacious figure in Mark Wilson.

At number eight, Billy Vunipola is one of the best players in the world, with his fearless ball-carrying, tackling and ability to give England go-forward ball key to their World Cup chances.

It’s the back row England fans have craved since the days of Neil Back, Lawrence Dallaglio and Richard Hill back in 2003. And one which will be difficult to break down if Jones’ men are to come up against the All Blacks in the semi-finals.

If England perform to the same level they did against Ireland back in February or even the way they did two weeks ago in Twickenham against the same opposition, they’re capable of beating any team in the world.

They are a force to be reckoned with and, if all goes their way, may even be leaving Japan with the Webb Ellis Trophy.

Nickname: Red Rose

Union: Rugby Football Union

Head coach: Eddie Jones

Captain: Owen Farrell

Most caps: Jason Leonard (114)

Top scorer: Jonny Wilkinson (1,179)

Top try scorer: Rory Underwood (49)

Home stadium: Twickenham

Best finish: Winners (2003)

Fixtures: Tonga (September 22), United States (September 26), Argentina (October 5), France (October 12)

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Rugby World Cup 2019: Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola and other England players to watch out for

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With England’s first match in the Rugby World Cup just three weeks away, we take a look at the star players who will be key to their Webb Ellis trophy prospects in Japan.

OWEN FARRELL (27)

Position: Outside-half

Farrell has been in impeccable form since the Six Nations and his on-field presence is a threat to opposition. Apart from his solid kicking and accurate distribution, he sets the tone for England’s defensive defiance and, if not selected at 10, you can bet he’ll produce a stellar effort at 12.

A central figure and classy player.

MANU TUILAGI (28)
Position: Centre

A man most players would not like to have to come up against. The Leicester player is a wrecking ball through any defence and an unrivalled weapon in the midfield. He has feet like Cinderella and can use his deft touch to put his outside man in favourable attacking positions.

MAKO VUNIPOLA (28)
Position: Prop

Vunipola produced a performance for the ages against Ireland in the Six Nations, but injury has curtailed his impact over recent months. A devastating performer in the loose, the Saracens man shows soft hands, thunderous carries and even jinky side steps when in possession.

Let’s hope he stays fully fit in Japan. A colossus of a player.

MARO ITOJE (24)
Position: Lock

A quality footballer who consistently produces big numbers each game. Itoje is a serious breakdown threat and does all the quiet work as loudly as possible.

If a Lions team was to be selected tomorrow, the Saracens man would be one of the first six names on the team sheet. He has the athleticism and brings immense physicality to the contest. Scary to think he is still only 24.

BILLY VUNIPOLA (26)
Position: No8

The 28-year-old has the priceless ability to get his side on the front foot, whether it’s exploding off the back of scrums, carrying or simply hauling down opposition attackers.

One could look worldwide and still not find a better No8 than the Saracens stalwart. Vunipola hums with godliness and will be a vital cog in Jones’ potential World Cup-winning machine.

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England winger Jonny May hopes it’s third time lucky for Ruaridh McConnochie

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Jonny May hopes England room-mate Ruaridh McConnochie avoids any fresh mishaps that will deny him a third opportunity to make his Test debut.

Hip and hamstring injuries saw McConnochie withdrawn from the starting XV on the eve of the home and away World Cup warm-up Test against Wales last month, but the Bath wing is poised to feature against Italy in Newcastle on Friday.

Eddie Jones will announce his team for the final match of the build-up to Japan 2019 on Wednesday morning and is also expected to name Anthony Watson at full-back.

Occupying the opposite wing to sevens specialist McConnochie, who won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics, will be the player with whom he has been rooming in camp.

May said: “It’s been tough for Ruaridh. He was upset on the Fridays before we played Wales. Other than that he’s just got on with it.

“The people around you have an influence on you so for him not to mope around is a credit to him.

“That’s probably one of the reasons Eddie likes him. Even if he’s not playing, he’s still adding to the group.

“I’m really excited for him to get out on the pitch. It must have been difficult for him but he’s ready. Once he gets out on the pitch he’ll do what he does.

“He’s fit and he’s strong. Maybe that’s a sevens thing or Maybe that’s just him. We haven’t done much contact stuff here but he breaks tackles because he’s used to those one-on-ones.

“I’ve told him to ‘look after yourself, be smart, don’t push it’. If we wants a chat before the game then I’ll help him the best I can. He’s here for a reason.

“He’s had a brilliant season with Bath, got experience at an Olympic Games and he’s a really great guy. He’s going to do well.”

Elliot Daly has been an ever-present at full-back since last summer’s tour to South Africa but having started all three warm-up matches he is due a rest, opening the door for Watson to make his fourth appearance in the position.

An Achilles injury that ruled him out of England contention for 17 months finally cleared up in time for the double header against Wales.

“Anthony is looking really good off the back of a long, long injury. He’s potentially at full-back so I’m really excited for him,” May said.

“We train together all the time. All the back three meetings are always together. No matter who is playing, we’ll always stick to the same framework.

“Of course each individual’s different so it’s about reacting to the guys around you.”

Henry Slade faces the prospect of entering the World Cup without any game time in the bank after failing to train fully at England’s camp in Treviso on Tuesday.

The Exeter outside centre has been troubled by a knee injury that forced him to sit out both games against Wales and the rout of Ireland.

He took ownership of the number 13 jersey during last summer’s tour to South Africa and has been first choice since until injury struck.

Provided by Press Association Sport 

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