“They’re going to come out all guns blazing,” predicts Eddie Jones. “It’s going to be like 15 Donald Trumps out there, so we’ll have to be on our job, because we know they’re going to give it everything they’ve got, just like Tonga did.”
Jones has a bit of a penchant for making strange, provocative comments in the build up to games, in order to deflect media attention (and also for his own amusement I imagine.) This certainly ranks amongst the stranger of his quips, but there is a certain amount of truth in it; the USA will not be bowed by England’s reputation, and will be determined to secure a legendary upset.
Gary Gold, the American Head Coach, replied succinctly enough, “I don’t know what it means.” Gold has been striking a humble public image in the build-up, emphasising his sides minnow status in order to place pressure on England, who will need to be wary of complacency (particularly after the shock of Uruguay defeating Fiji.)
“England are a very well equipped team,” Gold began. “We have watched all their recent matches and did not find any weaknesses. We see this match, and the ones against France and Argentina, which we relish because we do not often play tier one nations, as an opportunity to show how much we have improved since the last World Cup and that we can go toe-to-toe with the top sides for long periods.”
Yet Gold is clearly optimistic about his side’s prospects, and happy to draw upon the success of other tier two nations for inspiration, “I think Japan’s victory over South Africa four years ago changed the mindset of the nations below tier one,” he said.
“Tonga beat France in 2011 [and Fiji knocked out Wales in 2007] and I think that the gap, while still quite wide, is closing, if slowly. We do not have anything to lose, other than the game, and the pressure will be on England.”
His own side beat Scotland last year, their first victory against a tier one nation, and are part of an emerging group of tier two contenders lobbying World Rugby for a fairer international structure, in which they would have more access to big tier one fixtures. These are the kind of clashes needed to grow the game.
“What is clear is that countries like the US, Georgia, Japan, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga need far greater exposure to tier one countries in between World Cups. The Nations league plan has collapsed: I am not a politician so I do not know why but there is no way the rest of us should be feeding off the scraps that fall from the top table. The schedule needs looking at.”
For England, the big team news is Billy Vunipola playing his sixth consecutive match, a decision Jones has been forced to publicly defend, and believes is not a risk. Henry Slade had been rumoured to be starting at full back, but Jones has gone once more with Elliot Daly, with George Ford captaining the side from fly half.
England Team: Elliot Daly; Ruaridh McConnochie, Jonathan Joseph, Piers Francis, Joe Cokanasiga; George Ford (capt), Willi Heinz, Joe Marler, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, George Kruis, Tom Curry, Lewis Ludlam, Billy Vunipola.
USA Team: Will Hooley, Blaine Scully (c), Marcel Brache, Paul Lasike, Martin Iosefo, AJ MacGinty, Shaun Davies; David Ainu’u, Joe Taufete’e, Titi Lamositele, Ben Landry, Nick Civetta, Tony Lamborn, John Quill, Cam Dolan.
Written by Joe Ronan