Former World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward has issued a stern warning to England in the wake of the draw for the 2023 World Cup.
The 2019 World Cup runners-up were handed a favourable draw in Paris on Monday, placed in Pool D alongside Japan, Argentina, Oceania 1 – either Samoa or Tonga – and Americas 2, which could be any one of the USA, Uruguay or Canada.
In doing so, England avoided pool clashes with the likes of France, Ireland, Scotland, Australia and Fiji, with those nations finding themselves in comparatively tougher groups.
Ireland and Scotland, in particular, have plenty to play for in Pool B after being drawn alongside reigning champions South Africa, while France have New Zealand in Pool A, and the Wallabies and Fiji are with Wales in Pool C.
However, Woodward, who masterminded England to their only World Cup title in 2003, said “it makes absolutely no difference” who his former side drew in their pool in his column for The Daily Mail.
The former international midfielder emphasised that England still have to defeat the world’s best teams in the tournament’s knockout stages if they’re to claim their first world title in two decades.
“To win a World Cup you need to beat the best teams on the planet and the draw just decides the route you will navigate to achieve that,” Woodward wrote.
“Regardless of Monday’s draw, to win the 2023 World Cup England will still almost certainly have to beat two out of France, New Zealand and South Africa on the final two weekends, which is something that proved beyond them in Japan.”
Woodward added that England need to learn to string together “back-to-back, world-class performances” if they are to mount a serious title challenge, something of which they failed to do in Japan last year.
After crushing the All Blacks with a dominant 19-7 semi-final victory, the English fell well short against the Springboks in the final a week later, going down 32-12 in Yokohama.
“Producing back-to-back, world-class performances right at the end of a World Cup — possibly against massively different opponents and styles — is still England’s major challenge,” he wrote in The Daily Mail.
“Avoiding those three world-class sides until the semi-finals would seem a positive outcome. But, as ever, it all depends on how you come out of the pool and the quarter-final, how you deal with injuries, your conditioning and your strength in depth.”
Of the teams England will face in the pool stage, Woodward said both Los Pumas and the Brave Blossoms must be considered as strong as their recent results suggest they are.
The World Cup draw comes just after Argentina’s success in the Tri-Nations, where they defeated the All Blacks for the first-time ever and drew with the Wallabies twice after having played almost no rugby due to COVID-19 for over six months.
Japan, meanwhile, haven’t played at all this year because of the pandemic, but made history in their home World Cup in 2019 when they became the first-ever Asian team to make the quarter-finals following maiden victories over Ireland and Scotland.
Nevertheless, Woodward said there should be no excuse for England, by far the higher-ranked side of the three, to not top Pool D.
“In their pool, England should assume that the Pumas will continue their recent bounce-back. Prepare for the Argentina we saw at the 2007 and 2015 World Cups, not the lesser outfits we saw in 2011 and 2019,” he wrote.
“England should also assume that Japan will not let their standards slip and will pose a genuine threat. Having said all that, there really should be no reason England do not top their pool.”
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