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For the first time in eight years, England will tomorrow go into the unfamiliar territory of a Rugby World Cup quarter-final, and few – if any – know what will happen. Only four of the current squad know what knockout World Cup rugby feels like, while it has been even longer since Eddie Jones had that quarter-final feeling. From here on in, it doesn’t get much bigger than this.
Dreams will be ended, jobs will be lost and careers ended among the eight teams left at the big-stakes table. On Thursday, Jones compared the World Cup so far to a game of poker, suggesting England can only play the hand they’ve been dealt after their last pool game was cancelled. Is it the winning hand? Only time will tell.
But it was a different analogy that revealed the magnitude of knockout rugby ahead of Saturday’s match against his former team, Australia.
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If England fail this weekend, the likelihood is that Jones will be sacked for falling short of expectations, and four years of rebuilding English rugby will have gone to waste. In the hills of Beppu, north of Oita where England will take on the Wallabies, Jones drew on the history of the samurai spirit to make it abundantly clear that he is aware of what is at stake.
“You know it’s do-or-die time,” he said. “You see those hills at the back of us? That’s where all the samurais lived. Every time the samurais fought, one lived and one died. It will be the same on Saturday; someone is going to live and someone is going to die.
“That’s what the game is about and that’s the excitement of the game. You get the best eight teams, all playing for their lives.”
The may seem a tad dramatic had it not been for the tragic circumstances that have surrounded this match. The death toll of Typhoon Hagibis in Japan reached 74 on Thursday, with Jones starting his press conference with a message of condolence to the victims, read out in Japanese. The 59-year-old was almost in tears again minutes later when the name of his late coach and friend Jeff
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