England’s pursuit of redemption following their embarrassing 2015 World Cup display began with the installment of Eddie Jones as their coach. He succeeded Staurt Lancaster and immediately embarked upon a long winning run of 17 games. The streak eventually came to an end against Ireland but it has seen the Red Rose rise to second in the world.
A victorious campaign in the 2016 Six Nations where they won the Grand Slam was followed by winning the Championship this year. It has seen Eddie Jones and England’s stock rise massively.
Jones sees the Six Nations, the summer tours and the autumn internationals as building blocks towards one thing, the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
The competition will at last give England the chance to banish the demons of their last failed campaign in which they lost to Wales 28-25 before enduring a 33-13 hammering from Australia.
Since then, the rugby world has seen a massive shuffling in the rankings, with South Africa, Wales and France falling, while Australia, Ireland and Scotland have looked to match England’s trajectory towards the top too.
England have been the biggest movers though, taking second place as they continue to hunt down the world’s number one ranked team, the All Blacks.
While France and Argentina are good teams, are they really difficult opponents for England?
The above IRB rankings show France in fifth and Argentina in ninth. In the latest Six Nations France ended their campaign in third with 14 points, five short of England. Argentina finished their 2016 Rugby Championship in last place with just one win, over a beleaguered South Africa.
The two sides have not been in much form in their respective competitions, with France finishing third, but still being a long way off the performance levels of England and Ireland.
While there are three top ten teams in Group C, only one of them is a world class side. It does mean the Red Rose will have to face two good sides, but New Zealand play against a South Africa outfit that always turn up in tournaments, Ireland have to take on an up and coming Scotland team and Australia will renew relations with Wales once again.
While it can be claimed that the afore-mentioned teams will likely battle each other for first and second with little resistance from the other sides, England will be desperate to avoid becoming embroiled in a three way battle for two places.
The quality of world rugby has diminished noticeably in recent years, with South Africa, Wales and France all struggling in the last year. Perhaps then the gulf between the top four and the rest is such a large one that England should not have too much trouble in their group.
After all, if England really want to win the World Cup and become regarded as the best side in the world then they will have to beat a number of the world’s top teams in the process. Jones will hope that this path begins with the scalps of France and Argentina then.