TWICKENHAM — Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. That is the adage driving England on as Eddie Jones attempts to mastermind 2019 Rugby World Cup glory.
The tournament in Japan does not kick off for another 25 months, but with their Pool C opponents confirmed, England have already begun to plan for their assault on the Webb Ellis Cup.
Eddie Jones believes Manu Tuilagi can “demolish” the All Blacks and branded Leicester’s wrecking-ball centre worth every ounce of effort poured into rebuilding his injury-hit England career.
Manu Tuilagi has returned to the England squad for their three-day preseason training session this weekend.
Jones is constantly looking to improve his side — both on and off the field — and with that in mind he and members of his backroom staff have looked to sports as diverse as football, formula one, cycling and bobsleigh for inspiration.
“We need to be the best prepared team in the world because to win the World Cup is going to take an extraordinary performance,” Jones told reporters at a media briefing Friday.
“And to have an extraordinary performance, we have to have an extraordinary preparation.”
They will also, more than likely, need to beat New Zealand. Jones hinted that he had spotted a weakness in the back-to-back champions over the summer, suggesting the All Blacks are “experiencing problems with their depth” as squad players head to Europe.
England are not scheduled to play the All Blacks prior to the World Cup, but signs from their own June tour were encouraging as a side shorn of 15 British & Irish Lions players sealed a 2-0 series win in Argentina.
Jones is not one to get carried away, though, and he knows there is plenty of work to do if England are to return from Japan victorious. On Friday, he admitted he did not have any players at his disposal who would strike fear in opponents.
“We’re developing players who are going to be like that,” he said.
Billy Vunipola, back in the training squad announced Thursday as he continues to recover from the shoulder injury that ended his Lions tour before it had begun, is one who Jones predicts has the potential become world class.
England’s youngsters, including Sam Underhill, second right, and Tom Curry, far right, put their hand up for selection in Argentina. Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Then there are the nine debutants from Argentina retained for the camp on the outskirts of London, with Tom Curry and Sam Underhill both receiving praise. “They’ve got a range of skills, a range of toughness to set them up to play Test rugby.”
The inclusion of the opensides hints at an evolution in the back row. James Haskell’s performances under Jones mean he has credit in the bank but the fight for the No. 7 jersey is on.
And that is, perhaps, the secret to England’s success over the last 18 months. Everyone from captain Dylan Hartley to the coaching staff knows that if their level drops then their place in the group is under threat.
“No one’s set in stone apart from myself for the next game,” Jones said. “Everyone’s got to keep improving. That’s the challenge ahead.”
On the pitch Jones is determined to see an improvement in how well his side uses the ball. He believes pragmatic rugby, building through phases to put the opposition under pressure, is a thing of the past.
“You’ve got to be able to crack the opposition in the first three phases,” he said. “Find the space, use the ball, keep the ball alive, and be accurate in your skill work.
“So, that would be what we’d like to see. But that’s not going to happen overnight. It takes time, it takes effort, it takes application.”
Manu Tuilagi streaks away to score against the All Blacks in December, 2012. Matthew Lewis – RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images
It is the type of rugby that sets the All Blacks apart from every other rugby playing nation, and Jones’ desire to depose New Zealand as the world’s No. 1 side is behind his willingness to gamble on the talent of Manu Tuilagi.
The Leicester centre is still some way short of a return to the Test arena, as Jones himself admitted, but he possesses an irresistible ability to break the gain line and put into practice the type of game plan that the England coach craves.
“I know the kid himself is working as hard as he can to get back on the field,” Jones said. “At the moment everything looks pretty positive so we’ve just got to pray that this positivity keeps going and he has a period where he can be injury-free and show what he’s capable of.”
The memory might be fading but England fans are well aware what Tuilagi is capable of. In 2012 the centre capped a wonderful performance with a try as the All Blacks were beaten 38-21 at Twickenham.
It was a game Jones alluded to Friday as he said: “No one’s ripped them [New Zealand] apart, apart from Manu.”
Jones added: “He loves rugby and he wants to play for England. He loves playing for England.
“He’s doing everything he can to get ready and I’m impressed by his dedication because he’s had a tough time. The amount of injuries he’s had would be enough to knock people away.”
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