England prop Dan Cole opens up on his 2019 World Cup final scar
Dan Cole has spoken about his surprise return to the Rugby World Cup four years after the England scrum dramatically collapsed in the 2019 final, leaving Eddie Jones’ team comfortably beaten by the Springboks in Japan.
The Leicester tighthead had played back-up to the first-choice Kyle Sinckler at that tournament, but he was rapidly ushered into the action in Yokohama just two minutes into the match when Sinckler was concussed and unable to continue.
That left Cole getting a call to play far earlier than envisaged and he couldn’t prevent the Springboks going to crucially dominate the set-piece and eventually win 32-12.
The consequence of that disappointing performance was that Cole was cut out of the international picture by head coach Jones in the following three years.
However, with his Tigers club coach Steve Borthwick succeeding Jones last December as England boss, the door was suddenly open for a return from the international wilderness at the age of 36.
Seven caps later, the veteran is now with England at their Le Touquet-Paris-Plage base and, ahead of Saturday’s Rugby World Cup opener versus Argentina in Marseille, Cole’s last appearance at the finals was a talking point on Wednesday.
“Yeah, I still remember what went on, I haven’t forgotten it,” he admitted about the terrible night he endured in the Far East four years ago. “But it is a different World Cup. No, there is plenty of memories of World Cups in general, not just specific games but just the feeling, things in the tournament, how it feels.
“It’s definitely been thought about this week and how you can use those previous memories, experiences to drive this team or help the team out moving forward because a lot of things go on and off field around the World Cup and we just have to focus on what we can focus on and keep doing what we do.”
If you play against Argentina in Saturday’s opener, do you feel you have a point to prove given what happened against the Springboks at the scrum?
“No, no. I am happy to be in the squad, I’m here to help the squad be the best that we can be. What has happened has happened. I have spent long enough thinking about it and moved on. I am more interest in what is about to happen than what has gone before.”
Did he genuinely believe he would find himself in this position, getting an international recall at the start of his after so many years out of the loop? “For the past three of those four years I didn’t think that would happen but I am very happy and grateful to be part of it,” he explained.
“Yes, since 2019 I didn’t think I would be involved but the Six Nations, Steve gave me a call and again in the summer said, ‘Would you like to be part of it?’. I jumped at the chance and that is why I am here.
“It was a surprise. I obviously worked with Steve at Leicester but he didn’t give anything away. Yeah, I didn’t think I would be, purely because I hadn’t played for three years, but he saw it differently and I am grateful he did.
“Steve took over at Leicester (in 2020) and we were given a task to do and we were driven hard every day and we achieved one of our goals [win the Gallagher Premiership]. There was no resting on my laurels at Leicester, we had a focus and a purpose to get on with things and we did.
“After 2019 in some regards with what happened in the final, I won’t say it would have been easy to pack it in but it would have been easy to drift but with Steve coming to Leicester and then covid and everything else happening, you have to reassess what has happened previously in your life.
“He came in with a purpose and a task and several of us, he gave us a purpose and a vision and we bought into it. We had a few tough years at Leicester and he had a vision to get us back to where we could be as a club and we did. It was an easy thing to buy into and get on with.”
What about England’s form heading into the finals on the back of five defeats in their last six matches? “Results aren’t where we need them but there are elements of our game that have improved,” Cole reckoned.
“Coming out here you definitely feel a different vibe in the camp, having people focus. There was always an air of selection or getting injured, there was always something holding you back whereas when you get here, everyone is focused on the Argentina game and what we need to do. Recent form hasn’t been brilliant but we are a team that is working hard and we need to turn that around.
“You look at the team in the Championship, they are dangerous. If you have one scrum where you are not fully focused they can do damage, they can get stuck into you. They are a dangerous team and obviously, they have grown their game in other areas. We know what is coming up front.”
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