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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