World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson believes England’s draw for the 2019 tournament in Japan has the potential to make Eddie Jones’s side squirm, but insists the make-up of the pool is far from apocalyptic.
England have been pitted against France and Argentina, who have both reached at least the semi-finals in two of the last three World Cups, as well as yet-to-be-determined teams from the Americas and Oceania.
Painful memories are harboured from the 2015 World Cup on home soil when, having found themselves in a “pool of death”, England succumbed to both Wales and Australia and bowed out in the group stage.
England became the first host nation to suffer the ignominy of failing to reach the knockout phase, ultimately costing head coach Stuart Lancaster and his staff their jobs.
“It’s a pool they can definitely get out of without too many problems. It is also a pool they could find themselves still in when everybody else moves onto the quarter-finals,” said Wilkinson.
“The reason I don’t think it is a pool of death is because the others are going to be pretty tricky as well. The word death is just a bit strong – the group of minor suffering perhaps.
“But it is the same for each one of those teams. I wonder if France are having the same conversation. The answer going into that World Cup is knowing that your seven out of 10 is better than their 10. Every game now is about answering that question.”
Former Newcastle and Toulon fly-half Wilkinson, who kicked the decisive drop-goal in the 2003 World Cup final, is adamant that Jones’s charges, currently No2 in the world rankings, are on course to make waves in two years’ time.
The 37-year-old is also convinced that Six Nations defeat to Ireland in March, which denied England a second successive Grand Slam and a new world record of 19 successive Test victories, came at an opportune time.
“I definitely think they are on the right road,” he added. “But I think there is the constant issue about plateauing.
“Being your best can simply become not as exciting anymore. Excitement is the key. It’s about re-checking the whole time and what helps you re-check is losing. When you lose in a way that hurts, you automatically have to check.”
A 2018 autumn international is set to be the only time England face world champions New Zealand before the World Cup. Wilkinson believes England need to lose the stigma of not beating the All Blacks during their renaissance since 2015.
“All of these things are ultimately permission slips to feel a certain way,” said Wilkinson. “They have to give themselves permission to say ‘we’re a damned good team, No2 in the world, could have won a second Grand Slam, an English team is in the final of European Champions Cup again, the Premiership is great’. They don’t need any more permission.”
Wilkinson has been a frequent visitor to England training camps under Jones, and admits he is open to travelling to Japan as a kicking guru if the Australian and the wider squad consider that to be beneficial.
“It’s only ever a question of helpful or unhelpful,” he added. “If they were interested in me going there for whatever reason, great.”
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