Former World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward says England are the only team that can deny New Zealand from completing a three-peat of Webb Ellis titles in Japan.
In his latest column for the Daily Mail, Woodward writes that the All Blacks are ‘unquestionably the favourites’ to win the World Cup, but that Eddie Jones’ team is capable of toppling the two-time defending champions.
‘In fact, the only team I can see beating them is England,’ Woodward says.
‘All their [New Zealand’s] traditional qualities have been to the fore: pace, high tempo, brilliant handling under pressure, the ability to absorb a team’s best shots and then counter-attack 90 yards to score.
‘That opening win against the Boks decided the pool there and then and they will be looking to finish with a full-bore performance against a disappointing Italy.’
Woodward, who coached England to their maiden World Cup title in 2003, stressed that is vital for Eddie Jones to beat France in the final pool match to maintain momentum heading into the playoffs, and also ensure that they only meet the All Blacks in the semi-finals and not the quarters.
‘Losing has the potential to slow England and sow seeds of doubt. The pressure would crank up, people might get twitchy and everything would look more problematical.
‘I don’t see England losing, in fact I am confident they will put France away in considerable style, but if I was in Eddie Jones’s shoes this week I would be painting the match as a do-or-die game of the utmost importance. Because it is.
‘England must use this game to really lay down a marker. They need to take their game up a notch or two. Their path to the quarter-finals has been pretty straightforward and undemanding. And England have been keeping the penalty count down and not irritating referees. That needs to continue.’
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