An emotional Eddie Jones choked back the tears as he reflected on what it meant to guide England into the 2019 World Cup.
After four years spent outlining his intention of returning the Webb Ellis Trophy to Twickenham, that quest is finally about to begin when England collide with Tonga at the Sapporo Dome on Sunday.
In a rare display of feeling, the Australian head coach was forced to compose himself as he considered the significance of carrying a nation’s hopes.
“It’s humbling, mate. It’s a great honour to coach England. . . and. . I just want to make sure I do my best,” said Jones, who has named his strongest available side against Tonga.
“World Cups are always emotional. You get to do something that is pretty special. To coach a nation and to be responsible for a nation at a World Cup, where you know it’s not just Rugby fans watching.
“Families watch World Cups, that’s the difference. It becomes an event for the country, rather than an event for Rugby followers. It becomes an event for this country here. To be involved in that is a real honour.
“That’s the amazing thing about World Cups. You are playing seven Rugby games so it’s no different than anything else, but it is in extraordinary circumstances.
“You go outside and there are spectators. There are Australian supporters, there are Fijian supporters, there are English supporters. It just creates a different atmosphere.”
Now that the defining phase of his England reign has arrived, Jones has braced fans a bumpy ride while promising that his squad have given everything during preparations for their quest to seize New Zealand’s Crown.
“My message to them would be ‘hang onto your seat’. They’re going to join us on the rollercoaster,” Jones said.
“The players have worked hard. Physically I haven’t seen them any better and off the field they’ve worked really hard to be a tight team.
“And that’s going to be tested in the World Cup because the World Cup is like a rollercoaster.
“We are at the top of the ride now and we are looking down – everyone’s nervous, everyone’s excited.
“You go down the first slope and you’re not sure if you are going to throw up or hang on.
“You’ve got to adapt to that and the players have equipped themselves to ride the rollercoaster because there’s going to be some turns, there’s going to be some accidents, there’s going to be some fun.
“We want to enjoy all of those things that come along and the team’s equipped to handle it.”
Only two changes have been made to the starting XV that toppled Ireland in record fashion at Twickenham last autumn, Anthony Watson coming in for Joe Cokanasiga on the right wing and Courtney Lawes displacing George Kruis at lock.
England are looking to launch their pursuit of glory with a statement performance against opponents who bookmakers predict will be swept aside with ease.
“Tonga will have them tight, they will have that ferocious pride. They are playing for more than just a game of Rugby,” Jones said.
“They are playing for a small country that fights against the odds and players there are fighting for their livelihoods, we know it means a lot for them.
“We understand how much emotion and intensity will go into the game and we have to match that.
“But we want to take them on. We are England and we want to take them on up front so no one will come out of there guessing.”
Provided by Press Association Sports
Wales and Saracens star Liam Williams readily admits he has had the year of his rugby life.
And if Williams can help Wales achieve Rugby World Cup glory in Japan over the next six weeks it would complete a remarkable major trophy Grand Slam.
The free running full-back has arrived at rugby union’s global showpiece following a glittering six months.
During that time, he helped Wales win the Six Nations title in unbeaten fashion, then started both finals as English giants Saracens secured a Champions Cup and Gallagher Premiership double.
It represents a spectacular run of success, and one that the 28-year-old is determined to continue.
“It has been the best year of my life in terms of the rugby aspect,” Williams said.
“I was injured quite a bit in my first year with Saracens. I was fortunate to win the Premiership that year but I didn’t play in the semis or the final because I injured my shoulder, I think it was.
“I missed that and then played a big part last season. I played all the games in the Six Nations as well and it’s a year I will never ever forget.”
Williams’ recent successes – on the back of him featuring in all three Tests for the British & Irish Lions two years ago – have meant hitting a sustained level of excellence to keep him among European rugby’s most elite performers.
And he has nothing but praise for Saracens, a club that continues to drive standards in the domestic and European game.
“You learn off the best players in the world like Owen Farrell and Alex Goode,” Williams added.
“I love the way it is up there. They look after your wives and girlfriends, there is a nursery on site for players in the morning to take your kids to. They’ve thought of every little thing and that’s what makes the club unique.”
It is a long way from Williams’ early working career as a steelworks scaffolder in Port Talbot – although memories came flooding back to him at Wales’ training base in Kitakyushu earlier this week.
#WALvGEO @AlunWynJones to equal the Welsh record of most test appearances when he leads Wales out at the City of Toyota Stadium for #RWC2019 🔴 Cyflawniad haeddianol i'r dyn sy'n arwain Cymru yn Japan. #HWFN— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) September 21, 2019
Full story: https://t.co/Ss4hvDpzHz pic.twitter.com/cIFOZM7leF
“We went out on a boat and we went past a steelworks and I felt it was like home from home,” he said.
“It’s probably about eight years or so since I was scaffolding, and if I went back now I wouldn’t have a clue what to do. Everything has changed.”
Hitting the World Cup heights are now his priority, starting with Wales’ opening Pool D clash against Georgia in Toyota City on Monday.
“I am very excited,” he said. “I didn’t play much at the last World Cup as I got injured. I’m really looking forward to it.
“You train and train and train but you want to just get into the games.
“We always put a lot of pressure on ourselves. It’s more expectation and knowing the country back home are expecting good things, and I am pretty sure we will be able to do that.”
Flanker Aaron Wainwright will make his Rugby World Cup debut in Wales’ tournament opener against Georgia on Monday.
The 21-year-old features in Wales’ starting back-row alongside Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi, with Ross Moriarty among the replacements.
Skipper Alun Wyn Jones will equal Gethin Jenkins’ Wales cap record of 129 appearances when he leads the team out in Toyota City.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland has chosen a starting line-up packed with star names as the Six Nations champions target a flying start.
Jones is joined by fellow British & Irish Lions Test players in Tipuric, full-back Liam Williams, wing George North, centre Jonathan Davies and hooker Ken Owens.
There is also a chance on the bench for fly-half Rhys Patchell, who has recovered from the concussion he suffered during Wales’ final World Cup warm-up game against Ireland in Dublin two weeks ago.
Elsewhere, there is a start for Scarlets prop Wyn Jones, and Jake Ball is Alun Wyn Jones’ second-row partner with Aaron Shingler providing lock cover among the replacements.
Squad locks Adam Beard and Cory Hill have targeted being available for the Australia game next weekend.
Beard has arrived in Toyota City after remaining at home to have his appendix removed last week, while Hill is recovering from a stress fracture to his leg.
After Georgia, Wales have a six-day turnaround before their Tokyo appointment with Australia that could decide which team wins Pool D.
And Monday’s meeting will be Wales’ first with Georgia since they posted an unconvincing 13-6 victory over them in Cardiff during the 2017 autumn Tests.
Wales go into the game after assistant coach Rob Howley was sent home from Japan earlier this week for an alleged breach of World Rugby’s betting regulations. Howley, 48, has returned to Wales to assist with an investigation.
Former Wales fly-half Stephen Jones has replaced Howley on the coaching team, and was involved in his first training session on Saturday.