Ben Youngs has cautioned England against believing their “own hype” as they bid to avoid the upset against Australia that would end their World Cup.
The rivals clash in Oita on Saturday in a rematch of the 1995 and 2007 quarter-finals and England are strong favourites to complete a seventh successive victory over the Wallabies under Eddie Jones.
Their last defeat in the fixture was far more significant than each of those wins, however, as a 33-13 rout at Twickenham consigned them to a harrowing group exit in the global showpiece four years ago.
Australia are dangerous World Cup opponents, even allowing for their decline since reaching the final in 2015, but Youngs insists England have yet to reveal the extent of their armoury in Japan.
“Australia are very clever in how they attack and I have always found them challenging in that aspect,” Youngs said.
“That game in 2015 was one where they came up with a play we had never seen before – Bernard Foley comes around and plays it back inside to Kurtley Beale.
“You think they are going to do one thing and they do something completely different. It’s important we prepare for that.
“I like the way they play with their attacking mindset – and off the back of that you always get chances.
“We haven’t shown a huge amount in any of our games. Against America and Tonga we kept it pretty low-key. Against Argentina we had a bit more in the playbook but again didn’t need to show our hand.
“We will make sure we are right and ready to go and have things we haven’t had to use yet.
“You know that there are certain areas of the game you are strong against Australia. That record gives you belief but we won’t read too much into it.”
Youngs is only one of four players in Jones’ squad, alongside Courtney Lawes, Manu Tuilagi and Dan Cole, to have played in a World Cup quarter-final – the 19-12 defeat by France in 2011.
Of the quartet just Youngs and Tuilagi are likely to start at Oita Stadium, leaving England to face Australia with precious little experience of knockout rugby on the global stage.
“I was thinking the other day about when we played France in the 2011 quarter-finals,” said Youngs. “At that stage they were deemed to be in turmoil.
“My experience is that you can’t read into what happens in the past, it’s just about that 80 minutes. Don’t believe your own hype as a side.
“We cannot rely on what has happened before, thinking that will be enough, because it won’t be.”
Add in England’s enforced two-week break due to the Pool C decider against France being cancelled because of Super Typhoon Hagibis, impacting on their momentum, and the Wallabies have cause to feel emboldened.
After four years of build-up to Japan, Youngs admits the prospect of it being over on Saturday is unthinkable but denies their lack of high-quality opposition en route to the last eight is a hazard.
“It would be bizarre. We’ve had pre-season games too and they were tough games, so we’ve had a good run of games,” Youngs said.
“I certainly don’t feel like we’re undercooked. I think we’re in exactly the right spot. We haven’t had to show a huge amount yet – and that’s a good thing.”
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Johnny Sexton has questioned the “strange” negativity around Ireland’s World Cup campaign, insisting Joe Schmidt’s men are ready to peak for the All Blacks.
British and Irish Lions fly-half Sexton insisted Ireland always knew Japan’s quality ahead of their 19-12 Pool A loss to the tournament hosts.
Japan beat Scotland 28-21 on Sunday to tee up a quarter-final clash with South Africa, handing Ireland a last-eight battle with back-to-back world champions New Zealand in Tokyo on Saturday.
Leinster star Sexton hopes Ireland have already shaken their typical World Cup quarter-final performance “out of our system” with that surprise loss to Japan – and now called on his side to produce one of their best-ever performances against the All Blacks.
“We’ve been building pretty well apart from that poor 60 minutes against Japan; everything else has pretty much gone to plan,” said Sexton.
“There’s been some negativity around us and we’d feel that’s been pretty strange.
“But we’re really confident in how we’re building. We’d like to be playing a bit better in some regards at times, but hopefully we can put that performance out there on Saturday.
“We’re very self-critical in terms of our performances and obviously after the Japan game we would have liked to have done things differently.
“But we knew how good a team Japan were, so we always knew that would happen if we didn’t play well, and it did happen.
“So I think looking at the Scotland game last night, Japan were excellent again. They have been through the whole tournament.
“They were clinical with the ball, every time Scotland gave them the ball they seemed to hold it for 20 or 30 phases.
“It was pretty impressive, so I’m sure they will go on and really worry South Africa.”
Ireland’s failure to launch past a World Cup quarter-final has become a millstone around the team’s neck.
Now Kiwi boss Schmidt has the chance for another history-making achievement, should he guide Ireland past his homeland and into a maiden World Cup semi-final.
Ireland lost 22-10 to Wales in the 2011 quarter-finals, before Schmidt’s injury-ravaged men were thumped 43-20 by Argentina in Cardiff four years ago.
Sexton hopes Ireland’s defeat to Japan will prove their main aberration for this competition then, especially as Schmidt’s side this time approach the knockout phases with a clean bill of health.
In 2015, Ireland faced Argentina without Sexton, captain Paul O’Connell, back-row stalwarts Sean O’Brien and Peter O’Mahony – and further backline talents Jared Payne and Tommy Bowe.
Bundee Aki faces a disciplinary hearing on Monday night and could be ruled out for the remainder of the tournament through suspension after his red card against Samoa.
But beyond that Ireland have everyone battling for selection, leaving Sexton hopeful of yet more history this weekend.
“I’m hoping that having lost a pool game that we’ve got that quarter-final performance out of our system that we’ve had in other tournaments,” said Sexton.
“The way we played against Japan was probably very similar to the way we played against Wales and Argentina in the last two tournaments.
“The difference now is we’re not favourites going into this quarter-final whereas we were in the last two.
“So we’re building nicely, we haven’t hit our best performance yet and we need to get close to that to get the right result on Saturday.
“It makes a big difference having everyone fit, even just for the quality of training.
“I remember that Argentina week. We had guys like (analyst) Vinny (Hammond) running against us, and it wasn’t the best quality opposition, physically and personally!
“But this week we have everyone fit, we’ve two good sides for training, so we can make the most of it.”
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Hallam Amos is not your typical rugby player.
He has a neuroscience degree and is a trainee doctor. But right now, Welsh fans may feel it is he who needs to make an appointment with a physician.
Amos could have been celebrating becoming the latest member of the Rugby World Cup’s hat-trick club in Wales’ 35-13 win against Uruguay.
He crossed the whitewash three times, but came up empty-handed on each occasion after a litany of errors, indicative overall of Wales’ unconvincing win over the South American minnows.
Dragons wing Amos crossed initially midway through the first half; a free-flowing skilful backs move saw Hadleigh Parkes tee him up to go over out wide. That was before the TMO called the move back for a forward pass from the sturdy centre.
That was the South Africa-born Parkes’ error but the two that followed were all Amos. He was too far ahead of play early in the second half when Parkes again handed off to him with the line looming.
A little later on he made a surge for the line but dropped the ball in the act of diving to touch it down.
His 80 minutes served as a microcosm of his trials and tribulations in a Wales shirt, a career that began way back in 2013, when he was still just a teenager. It is one that has ironically been spent largely in doctor’s offices and physio’s rooms.
After making his debut against Tonga in 2013, Amos had to wait almost two years for his next cap.
He was part of the 2015 Rugby World Cup squad after a raft of injuries, but then hobbled out of the tournament when he dislocated his shoulder innocuously against England.
He played in every Test against the All Blacks the following summer, but dislocated his shoulder again attempting to score a try against Australia in the autumn.
An ankle injury playing for his club team the Dragons over Christmas 2017 ruled him out of the 2018 Six Nations. He rebounded to impress on the 2018 summer tour to Argentina from full-back, only to then dislocate his elbow on Dragons duty at the start of last season.
Six years on from that Tonga debut, the 25-year-old still only has 21 caps.
Amos was far from the only player in red to endure an off-colour day. It was a pretty grizzly performance in general from Wales.
There were knock-ons and spillages galore – 19 from Wales to 11 from Uruguay – which contributed to a dislocated Dragons performance and allowed tenacious Los Teros to terrorise them.
Yes, they were victorious. Yes, they got a bonus point. Yes, they finished top of the pool and won all their group games – the only other time this feat was achieved came at the inaugural tournament.
Consequently, 1987 also delivered the Dragons’ best-ever finish of third place.
But there was little to like about Wales’ performance against dogged, heroic Uruguay – a team largely comprised of amateur and semi-professional players.
Of course we have to give Esteban Meneses and his side huge credit. And this was not anywhere close to the XV Warren Gatland will put out to face the French in the quarter-final in Oita next Sunday.
They’re hardly a sick patient in desperate need of surgery. Walking wounded Dan Biggar and Jonathan Davies will likely be back upright and fit to face France.
So will captain Alun Wyn Jones, Gareth Davies, Liam Williams, George North, Josh Navidi et el.
But despite topping the pool, Welsh fans might be looking and feeling a little paler after such a meek performance. Patience and plenty of rest should be prescribed over the next week.
Les Bleus are lurking and the men in red will have to be much better. Wales, France will see you now.