"Fall From Grace" - England's Drop Since Rugby World Cup Draw & Chances Against Pool Stage Opponents - Ruck

“Fall From Grace” – England’s Drop Since Rugby World Cup Draw & Chances Against Pool Stage Opponents

When England were drawn into Pool D for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, the fans of what was then Eddie Jones’ side were delighted to see a routinely ‘winnable’ group take shape. However, now under the reign of Head Coach Steve Borthwick, England have fallen far from the heights which they occupied on the date of the draw, back on December 14th, 2020

England entered the draw for the competition as one of four top seeded sides. Valiant victories over Australia and the All Blacks took England to the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final, and glory in the 2020 Six Nations saw Jones’ Triple Crown winning side become a revered nation amongst the global game.

England were subsequently booked in to occupy one of the top four spots for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, along with the Springboks, All Blacks and Wales, all of whom had been fellow semi-finalists in Japan. Jones’ men were on top of the world, with 2021 Autumn victories over Australia and World Champions South Africa, solidifying their 2021`status amongst rugby’s leading nations.

However, along with Warren Gatland’s Wales (who will get their own RWC Pool Stage predictions article), England have since plummeted down the World Rugby rankings, after a series of historic defeats.

Eddie Jones’ Fall From Grace

The warning signs began at the tail end of the Eddie Jones era. The 2022 Six Nations saw Scotland turn the tide, and set off the sands of time for the Australian’s time in charge of England. Scotland’s 20-17 victory at Murrayfield saw Gregor Townsend’s men retain the Calcutta Cup, with back-to-back victories for the first time 1984. A successful 2-1 Summer series win over Australia presented promising signs for England, yet the following Autumn Internationals pulled the curtain down on Jones’ time in charge.

Eddie Jones, Head Coach of England during the Autumn Nations Match between England and Tonga at Twickenham Stoop on 6 November 2021. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

A 29-30 loss to Argentina was the first defeat to Los Pumas at Twickenham since 2006, and marked a seismic narrative shift for the South American side. England then drew 25-25 against a re-building All Blacks team, with Marcus Smith’s now infamous match-ending clearance cutting the wind from England’s sails, despite Will Stuart’s last-minute equalising try. Enough was enough for Jones after another heavy defeat to the Springboks (13-27), with the Australian sacked, in favour of Borthwick to take charge for the 2023 Six Nations.

Steve Borthwick’s Turbulent Start

Steve Borthwick, Head Coach of England Rugby during the England Rugby Captains Run ahead of the Six Nations Match between Wales and England at Principality Stadium, London on 24 Feb 2023 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

Despite coming in to the role fresh from winning the 2021/22 Gallagher Premiership, the former Leicester Tigers Head Coach has so far been unable to convert the club level success to the international stage. The unwanted records continued for England, with the 2023 Six Nations getting off to the worst possible start for Borthwick. A third consecutive defeat to Scotland saw the Calcutta Cup remain North of the border, with the added salt in the wounds being Scotland’s back-to-back wins at Twickenham, for the first time in over 100 years (last was 1909).

A routine win over Italy got Steve Borthwick his first win in charge at ‘HQ’, before England’s away victory over Wales was overshadowed by the threatened Welsh strike action, admist the WRU contract negotiation saga. England admittedly performed poorly in Cardiff, and capitalised on the pre-occupied Welsh mindset to find a way to win. However, the following week’s run-in against France optimised England’s struggle, with a record home defeat at Twickenham (10-53).

An away trip to eventual Grand Slam champions Ireland ended in an expected defeat, and wrapped up an underwhelming 2023 Six Nations campaign. With the Rugby World Cup getting ever closer, Borthwick’s men had the recent Summer Nations Series to right the wrongs, and boost team morale ahead of the trip to France. However, just one win in four games failed to achieve the objectives with the latest defeat being amongst England’s most significant losses in recent years.

After drawing an ill-disciplined two-match series with Wales, and again feeling the might of Andy Farrell’s Ireland, England were beaten by Fiji for the first time in their history. This was England’s first ever loss to the Pacific Islanders, or any ‘tier two’ rugby nation for that matter (not in the Six Nations or SANZAAR). This monumental 30-22 defeat sees England drop to eighth in the World Rugby rankings, a record low which they have only sunk to once before, following the humiliating 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool Stage exit as the host nation.

Credit – World Rugby

With just three wins in nine matches, all eyes will be on Borthwick’s side to deliver, yet expectations are dwindling for the trip across the channel. England have the talent in their ranks to turn their fortune around, and a run of improved performances could well see England progress through into the latter stages of this lop-sided competition.

Here is our thoughts on how each England match in Pool D will play out.

England v Argentina – September 9th, Marseille

England get their toughest pool stage opponent first, with Argentina currently situated at sixth in the World Rugby rankings. Back in 2020, this match-up would have heavily favoured England, however some 32 months later, Steve Borthwick’s side are the underdogs heading into their opening contest. Since his appointment as Head Coach in 2022, Michael Cheika has re-invigorated Los Pumas, and took them to some historic triumphs.

Last year, Cheika led Argentina to milestone Rugby Championship wins over the Wallabies and All Blacks, and in doing so became only the second Head Coach (after Eddie Jones) to defeat New Zealand with two sides, having previously secured a Bledisloe Cup triumph with Australia. Argentina pressed on from these victories with the aforementioned win at Twickenham last Autumn, and into the latest Rugby Championship with another win over Eddie Jones’ side, this time being the Wallabies.

A one-point defeat to South Africa (22-21) was an impressive outing for Argentina, who look like the in-form side for the clash in Marseille. England come into the contest with the obvious poor form, and a heavily faltered squad due to suspensions and injuries. Both Borthwick’s captain Owen Farrell and sole specialist number eight Billy Vunipola have been banned from the Rugby World Cup opener, following high tackles against Wales and Ireland.

A litany of injuries has also thinned out Borthwick’s ranks, with the contention of Kyle Sinckler, Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly less than solidified. Scrum half Jack van Poortvliet will miss the entire competition, after suffering an ankle injury in the return match against Wales at Twickenham.

So, due to the current form of both teams and England left with no option but to field a weaker squad than hoped, Argentina could well come away victorious in 10 days time. This will start off England’s hopes for the quarter-finals with a significant backwards step, and ignite a do-or-die mentality into the squad.

PREDICTION: Argentina 24 – 19 England