As we know, Andy, the Rugby World Cup 2019 is being held in Japan for the first time since its inception. This is exciting fans all around the globe, yet the build-up and media coverage in the UK has been relatively minimal. Do you think this has anything to do with the current political climate hogging the headlines or are fans just not as interested as they once were?
“I think it’s a mixture of things really. Obviously with the warm-up games being held over the summer there hasn’t been any domestic rugby in the UK, and unfortunately, they haven’t exactly whetted the appetite of the fans, with the majority labelling them “’friendlies’. Combine that with the other sporting events of the summer, such as the Cricket World Cup and The Ashes, throw in everything that’s going on with Brexit, and I think a lower level of anticipation can be expected.
That being said, I do think the intensity has ramped up over the last couple of weeks, especially now the teams have arrived in Japan. Hopefully the excitement will this Friday, when Japan host Russia.”
You touched on Brexit there, it seems nigh on impossible to talk about politics without mentioning the B word. Do you think Boris Johnson will be able to secure a deal with the EU?
“I think the general consensus, regardless of if you voted to remain or to leave, is that leaving with a deal is by far the desirable choice. However I think it would’ve been nice if Boris could’ve kept the bargaining chip of no deal, even if it is not the preferable option. Unfortunately, now that has been taken away from the government, the EU can sit there and dictate terms.
We are facing a very interesting landscape at the moment with the ongoing negotiations. Hopefully by the 31st of October, Boris would’ve negotiated a deal and we can move forward working towards a progressive economic relationship with European countries; because I think now, leave or remain, the majority of the public are fed up with waiting.”
So I take it you’re not too keen on the cross-party alliance seeking to extend the deadline until 2020?
“No absolutely not, we’ve extended it twice already. The more we extend the weaker we look and the stronger the EU’s negotiating power. From my perspective, we need to come to a conclusion, hopefully with a deal, on the 31st of October. That way Boris Johnson can start to implement the spending plans he has and hopefully boost Britain and it's economy."
Working in FX we know that Japan is known as a safe haven for investors as the Yen is a relatively stable currency. Do you think the UK leaving the EU will effect this or will the Yen remain consistent?
“I think Brexit has and will affect the entire world’s economy in one way or another. It’s hard to say how it will impact the stability of the Yen. However, that being said, if you look around the world, you ask - what is a safe currency? Where is a safe haven?
The Euro is the strongest it has been for a long time when compared with the pound, while the pound is extremely volatile. All we can do is look for the best deal possible, once we come to a conclusion, we can hopefully look forward to more economic stability.
I’m not sure about how Brexit will affect the Yen, but we do need to get through this choppy water the UK finds itself in. We are currently in a position where we don’t know if we’re coming or going and it’s making it very difficult for business and individuals to plan for the long term. Regardless of whether we were to leave the EU by the 31st of October or delay proceedings until 2020, I’m sure either outcome would have an effect on the EU, UK and Japan.”
Much like Brexit, over the last few years Eddie Jones has split English fans opinions, especially when it comes to the topic of squad selection. Looking at his final 31 man squad are you happy or are there some omitted players you would’ve like to have seen on the plane?
“With squad selections, you can always make arguments for omitted players. Danny Cipriani and Alex Goode have been tearing up trees in the Premiership and Champions Cup, yet they find themselves watching from their living rooms.
The one thing I will say about Eddie is he divides fans like no other coach has for England. Maybe that’s because he’s Australian, maybe it’s the way he handles the media or maybe it’s because of some of the answers he gives in press conferences. He does it his way and as fans you have to respect it. He’s always said judge him on the World Cup, so I think over the next 8 weeks or so we will see if there is method to the Eddie madness.
If he wins the World Cup, we can say Eddie you were right, you did it your way, you didn’t fold to pressures from the media and it worked. However if he doesn’t, you’ll find media outlets and pundits bashing decisions he’s made regarding certain players he hasn’t picked, so it’s a double edged sword really. But as a coach or a CEO - I think being a coach is very similar to being a CEO, you have to call the shots and take risks to a certain extent. He’s made those decisions and we now have to wait and see what will happen as a result of those.”
How do you think England have fared in their warm up games? Is there anything that has really stood out to you?
“For me there are two main things that have stood out; firstly our power game and secondly the fact our squad is fully fit and firing. Eddie Jones now has a clear view of what he wants to do and where he wants to go. Manu [Tuilagi] is fit, Billy [Vunipola] is fully fit and with [Tom] Curry and [Sam] Underhill in the back row, you can see the way we want to play. It’s been very effective in the warm-up games. All you really want as a coach and a fan is to have your best players fully fit and firing, and that’s what this current England squad seem to have, apart from a slight question mark over Mako Vunipola, but I believe he will be ready to go during the World Cup.
As of right now, we are in the top 5 favourites and any of those 5 teams could win it.”
Looking at the pools, Ireland and Scotland will face Japan. A lot of fans will recall that stunning upset from the 2015 World Cup when they defeated South Africa in Brighton. Can they pull of a similar upset with the home advantage?
“100% I think they can, if you’d asked me a few weeks ago I would’ve told you they could beat Scotland. As of right now I think Ireland need to be careful as well. If you look at Japan, nobody gave them a chance against South Africa but they pulled off possibly the biggest underdog win in rugby history.
I think both Ireland and Scotland will be looking at that game like a banana skin, knowing every mutual fan will be rooting for Japan. Can Japan beat them, yes; do I expect them to, no. That’s the beauty of this world cup, it’s incredibly open.”
We’ve spoken briefly about Ireland and Scotland, how do you feel our other 6 nations counterparts, France, will fare in this world cup?
“Historically if you look at World Cups, they can surprise teams. They made the final in 2011, they beat us in the quarter final of that same tournament and people had us [England] as favourites to win that game. They also beat New Zealand in the quarter final of 2007 World Cup.
The French team, for me are not in the top five teams- the top five teams in no particular order are England, Wales, South Africa, Ireland and New Zealand. Saying that, the French team are a bit of an enigma; they have quality throughout the team and have the ability to cause a perceived upset.
It’s hard to predict which French side will turn up but when their best team turn up they can beat anyone. That’s the most frustrating and brilliant thing about the French - It’s frustrating as a French fan because sometimes they’re incredible and other times they’re awful, and it’s brilliant to play against them because you’re hoping their bad side turns up.”
Looking at the pool games, who are you most excited to see in action?
“From an England perspective, the France game is crucial, I think it will determine who wins our pool. Not taking anything away from Argentina, but they have lost their last 9 games so I am backing England in that one.
Elsewhere, New Zealand and South Africa will be a massive game. Two powerhouses of rugby playing on the opening weekend of the tournament with the result basically determining their paths through the later stages of the tournament. So that game also carries significant pressure.
I think Wales and Australia will be a tight affair, Wales have only won that game once this decade but are probably one of the strongest teams in the world right now. On the other hand, Australia had a drop off but have recently found some decent form. The likes of Christian Lealiifano and James O’Connor really brings some excitement back into the squad, so I think it will make for a very interesting matchup.”
If you could pick a player of the tournament now, who would it be?
“I’d hope an English player wins it because that would mean England win the tournament. I’m going to say Manu Tuilagi, he’s back fit and firing, and when he’s on the ball he’s a very hard man to stop. He single-handedly defeated the All Blacks in 2012 and I think he’s back playing at that level now.”
Finally who do you think will win the 2019 World Cup?
“I want to be patriotic and say England, but I also want to be right. I’m going to say it will be an England versus South Africa final and England will take it by 22 points to 18.”