Eddie Jones believes England have an edge over their World Cup rivals because of the steps taken to ensure they are ready to play in the sweltering heat and humidity of Japan.
Two training camps in Treviso, north-east Italy, in July and August followed by eight nights in Miyazaki have subjected the squad to the boiling conditions which they will encounter over the coming weeks.
Temperatures regularly top 30 degrees while the humidity level climbs above 60 per cent every day, but rather than be intimidated by the oppressive climate Jones sees it as a feature of the first Asian World Cup that can be exploited.
“We’re looking forward to playing in the humidity,” Jones said at England’s official arrival press conference on the island of Kyushu.
“We’ve prepared for it and it’s obviously a big part of rugby in Japan in September and October. We feel like playing in the humidity will give us an advantage.”
As coach of Japan four years ago, Jones took the Brave Blossoms to the same location for an extended training camp that helped produce the nation’s finest performance at a World Cup.
Although they narrowly failed to reach the quarter-finals, they stunned South Africa to stage the greatest upset in rugby history in a victory that had its origins in Miyazaki.
“I think I can still see some of the sweat of the players lying on the ground. It’s still there,” England’s head coach said.
“It’s a great place to train – great facilities, the weather’s fantastic, the food’s good and the people are friendly. It’s nice to come back here.
“The players have a number of opportunities to do different things. They can play golf, they’ve been down the beach. It’s a place where you can prepare to win and that’s why we came here.”
England landed in Tokyo on Monday and although their exit from Narita Airport was delayed by five hours due to the fallout from Typhoon Faxai, they have not encountered any further issues.
“The first part of the World Cup is always dependent on your travel. We had a vigorous travel schedule, but we’ve settled in well now and have got used to the conditions,” Jones said.
“Players have been out and about a bit. We’ve deliberately had quite an easy training week but we’ll increase that starting today (Saturday).
“The players have adjusted really well. We’re very positive and there’s a good feeling in the camp. Everyone is ready to start work now.
“We’ve actually had to pull players back because they wanted to work harder. We’ve had a variety of activities on and off the field.
“The players feel like they’ve adapted to the environment as well as they can and now they’re ready to begin the serious preparation for the World Cup.”
Jones confirmed that Mako Vunipola (hamstring) and Jack Nowell (ankle) will not be available until the key Pool C games against Argentina and France next month.
England open their World Cup title quest against Tonga on Sunday week and their Australian boss hopes they will gather some local fans.
“The Japanese love the All Blacks and that isn’t going to change, but I’m sure we’ll get our fair share of support,” Jones said.
“We’ll get some good support and it will make a difference because Japanese rugby crowds can be quite quiet. If we’ve got a number of people supporting us, it could make a difference.”
Wales’ World Cup stars received a home from home welcome when they arrived in Kitakyushu on Saturday.
Local schoolchildren, some wearing Wales shirts, welcomed the players, coaches and support staff at Kitakyushu Airport.
The Wales squad will spend six days in the southern Japanese city, continuing preparations ahead of their World Cup opener against Georgia on September 23.
Head coach Warren Gatland and captain Alun Wyn Jones were presented with flowers underneath a “Go, Go Wales” banner that spanned the arrivals hall as the city of just under one million population underlined its World Cup support.
Players signed autographs and posed for pictures on their way through arrivals, while Wales’ official World Cup arrival ceremony will take place in the city on Monday.
Kitakyushu was not among the 12 venues chosen to stage a World Cup game, so decided to show its backing for Wales in the tournament.
The Welsh Rugby Union, meanwhile, embarked on a legacy programme in Kitakyushu 18 months ago, which has included organising and running coaching and refereeing courses.
“We wanted to leave a legacy here,” said former Wales full-back and wing Rhys Williams, who has been closely involved with the project.
“We want to ensure that we’re helping to support growth of rugby in this area, as well as the growth of Welsh rugby in this area.
“When we leave, we are hoping we will have a lot more coaches, referees and people engaged in the sport so that rugby can thrive here.
“It has been an amazing partnership, and the city have worked really hard with us. This is the culmination of all that.”
Gatland is due to front his first pre-World Cup press conference in Japan on Sunday.
It comes amid the possibility that locks Adam Beard and Cory Hill could both be unavailable for the Georgia encounter in Toyota City.
Ospreys forward Beard is set to join the squad early next week after having his appendix removed in Wales.
And Beard’s second-row colleague Hill is continuing to recover from a stress fracture in his leg, with the second pool fixture against Australia on September 29 his stated initial target.
Wales hope that 23-year-old Beard will be available to face Georgia after being assessed on his arrival, it is understood.
Mils Muliaina believes the 2019 Rugby World Cup will be the “most hotly contested” in the tournament’s 32-year history and claims any one of six teams could be crowned champion in Yokohama on November 2.
The ninth edition of the World Cup kicks off in Japan on Friday with the host nation taking on Russia in Pool A. Reigning world champions New Zealand – already history makers having been the first side to retain the Webb Ellis Cup in England four years ago – will be targeting a three-peat.
But while the All Blacks will head into the showpiece as favourites, former 100-cap star Muliaina says Steve Hansen’s men face huge competition from five other sides – England, South Africa, Ireland, Wales and Australia.
“It’s the most hotly contested World Cup ever and it will come down to the last three weeks,” Muliaina, who was part of the 2011 World Cup-winning side on home soil, said, speaking at the Emirates Airline Rugby Long Lunch in Dubai on Thursday.
Eight years ago was the second time the All Blacks were triumphant and it emphatically answered some niggling questions that had gnawed at New Zealand over the years, having gone five tournaments without success since hoisting the Webb Ellis high at the inaugural tournament – also in New Zealand – back in 1987.
They have since gone on to utterly dominate the international landscape, winning again in 2015 – a feat never previously achieved by any side.
Whereas pressure was once too much to handle, it is something this All Blacks side now thrives on, says Muliaina, who earned 100 caps from 2003-11.
“You talk about pressure. The All Blacks live that pressure,” said the 39-year-old former full-back, whose 2011 tournament was cut short after fracturing his shoulder in the 33-10 quarter-final win over Argentina.
“Steve Hansen has talked about the fact they have to go out there and perform every single game because everyone wants to beat them. If they don’t come home with the trophy it’s an upset.”
“It (the pressure) really hindered us over the years,” he added.
“It’s something the guys didn’t embrace, we ran away from the expectations of a nation. They’ve turned it around and now they walk towards it, the love it. They wear the pressure as a badge.
“It’s all about the mindset. The repeat had never been done before. But it’s alright saying all that, you still have to go out and deliver. And when you have the teams like England, Wales, Ireland, Australia, South Africa – any of those teams can win this World Cup.”
And ex-Blues and Chiefs hero Muliaina has warned the world champions against complacency, citing Japan’s upset of South Africa in 2015 as an example.
Although still the best side in the world, the All Blacks have also not been at their best in World Cup year. In their 46 games since dismantling Australia 34-17 in the final at Twickenham four years ago, New Zealand have won 38, losing only six.
However, three of those losses have come in their last 12 games, with a draw against the Springboks also being recorded in that time. They failed to win this year’s Rugby Championship for the first time since 2015 – drawing 16-16 with the Boks and being thrashed 47-26 by the Wallabies.
So, there is an assumption their indestructible veneer is not quite as thick as it used to be.
They also lost the number one ranking to Wales a few weeks ago, while Ireland – who have beaten the Blacks twice since the last World Cup – will go to Japan ranked No1.
Muliaina added: “It’s a possibility (that one of those big boys doesn’t get through the group). Japan, what they did last time, it’s all about where they end up in the pool and on what side of the draw they end up on.
“With the All Blacks and South Africa, if they slip up they’re facing the Irish in the quarter-final.”
Pressed to pick his two pugilists for the final, Muliaina couldn’t leave out his beloved Blacks though.
“The All Blacks will be number one hopefully,” he said. “I think possibly them and South Africa in the final. Bronze medal, maybe the English and Australia, they’re very quiet but beat us in Perth. I couldn’t tell you. I hope New Zealand are number one.”
Also speaking at the Long Lunch – the traditional curtain raiser to December’s Dubai Rugby Sevens, held annually at the Crowne Plaza, Dubai Festival City, was former Scotland centre Scott Hastings.
And he echoed Muliaina’s thoughts that the World Cup is completely open. “We both think it will be one of the most open World Cups,” said the 54-year-old, a veteran of 64 Dark Blues caps.
“You always look to New Zealand because they kind of set the bar and they’re back to back world champions. Everyone realises they’re not the number one team in the rankings but they’re the number one team in the world.
“Then you throw into the mix South Africa, who are playing so well and have beaten New Zealand in the last 12 months. England, who are looking powerful under Eddie Jones, Ireland who are the No1 team in the world under Joe Schmidt, who is a great coach.
“Warren Gatland and Wales, who are a very difficult team to play against. So there’s a real opportunity there.
“Even mercurial Scotland could cause an upset, or France or Argentina. Once you get to the quarter-finals, the knockouts will deliver the pressure and the moments.”