TOKYO (AP) — Eddie Jones’ stated aim when he took charge of England in 2015 was to make the team the best in the world.
It’s taken almost four years, and he’s just about got them there. The English are No. 1 in the rugby world rankings, for the first time in 15 years.
Now it’s time to validate it in a World Cup final.
“We’ve spent four years getting ready for this occasion,” Jones said Thursday, after naming an unchanged starting team to play South Africa in Saturday’s title match in Yokohama. “That’s why the players can be relaxed, that’s why I can be relaxed. Because we know we’ve done the work. But we are not relaxed about knowing what’s in front of us.”
Jones said his players were “a bit anxious, a bit nervous but also very excited” by the prospect of winning the World Cup for the second time, after 2003. England beat an Australian team coached by Jones in extra-time to win that title.
He urged this England team to “play with no fear” in the biggest games of their lives.
“It’s a great lesson for this week, that we have to go out there and make the game, take the game to South Africa,” Jones said. “We can’t afford to expect South Africa to give us the game.
“Our whole mindset this week about is taking the game to South Africa, playing with no fear, where can we take our game to? What level can we take our game to?”
With captain Owen Farrell, winger Jonny May and prop Kyle Sinckler overcoming minor injuries sustained in the 19-7 win over New Zealand in the semifinals, Jones had no hesitation naming the same XV for the final.
Sinckler had appeared to be the main injury concern for England, having practiced away from the main group this week because of tightness in his calf muscle.
“Kyle Sinckler is going to be absolutely buzzing at the weekend,” Jones said.
Farrell has number of minor problems but is fit to start at center, while winger May has again shrugged off a hamstring problem that has been nagging him since the win over Australia in the quarterfinals.
The only change to the matchday 23 saw Ben Spencer replace fellow scrumhalf Willi Heinz on the bench. Heinz sustained a hamstring injury late in the 19-7 win over New Zealand in the semifinals, so Spencer was summoned from England.
Spencer has played just 20 minutes of international rugby, through three appearances as a substitute. He was due to play for Saracens this weekend — now he is likely to be playing his first game at a World Cup.
Jones said training this week was less about the “volume” of work, more about “sharpening the sword.”
“South Africa will probably play a similar type of game they have played all tournament,” Jones said, “so we need to be good in the arm wrestle and when we have the opportunities to break the game up, we are then confident and composed enough to take them.”
England team: Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell (captain), Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Billy Vunipola, Sam Underhill, Tom Curry, Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje, Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola. Reserves: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Joe Marler, Dan Cole, George Kruis, Mark Wilson, Ben Spencer, Henry Slade, Jonathan Joseph.
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