'Changes the dynamic' - the World Cup challenge of an extra week off

Richard CARTER
All Blacks relaxing (AFP Photo/Handout)
All Blacks relaxing (AFP Photo/Handout)

Tokyo (AFP) - Coach Eddie Jones thanked "the typhoon gods" when England's last pool match against France was cancelled, giving his men an extra week off before the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals, but the unexpected break is not all good news for the teams.

The unprecedented decision to scrap two matches due to Typhoon Hagibis -- New Zealand vs Italy was also cancelled -- has left England, France and the All Blacks in the curious position of having two weeks off before their last-eight battles.

Favourites New Zealand will have had a gap of 28 days since their last serious challenge -- beating South Africa 23-13. In the interim, the All Blacks have coasted to wins against minnows Namibia and Canada.

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"It's a bit of a weird feeling," admitted All Black lock Sam Whitelock. "If you're given what you ideally want, we'd have loved to have played but we're just going to deal with what we've been handed."

While a longer rest period obviously results in fresher players and enables injuries to heal, some have warned of the danger of being "undercooked" going into a ferocious quarter-final.

Having a fortnight between matches "changes the dynamic completely", said Ian McGeechan, former Scotland and British and Irish coach, in his Daily Telegraph column.

Teams need regular games, said McGeechan, noting that New Zealand looked sleepy in the first half against Namibia when they failed to impose themselves against the lowest ranked side in the tournament.

Despite Jones's spin, "England badly need games. They haven't been tested once so far in this tournament", McGeechan said.

"England don't want to have to warm up again, they want to be coming to the boil."

- 'Beef and beer' -

Unsurprisingly, the outspoken Jones said he could only see the positive side as he whisked the squad off to southwestern Miyazaki for "beef and beer".

"Who would have thought we would have two relatively easy games, one tough game and then two weeks to prepare for a quarter-final? Someone is smiling on us. The typhoon gods maybe," said Jones.

"Our players have the opportunity now to build the tank up and empty it on Saturday week against whoever we play" -- likely Jones's native Australia.

One boon for Jones is that players with injuries -- such as number eight Billy Vunipola -- have more time to recover.

"We love Miyazaki beef. We have 80kg of a special consignment coming Saturday night. Billy (Vunipola) is allowed his beef again," joked Jones -- who had previously said his star player's ankle injury was from slipping on a slice of beef.

All Black coach Steve Hansen admitted the long rest could be seen "as a negative or positive thing. We're choosing to look at it as a positive".

He acknowledged that some of his players "probably need a bit of footy" -- citing long-term injury concern Brodie Retallick and centre Jack Goodhue -- but backed the decision to cancel the games as a "no-brainer".

Hansen said there would be a tough training session on Saturday to replicate the conditions the All Blacks would have faced against Italy, but was tight-lipped about their schedule.

"Whatever we do will be behind closed doors. There's no point in us telling everyone else what we're doing because then they might copy it," he said.

Back Ben Smith said that an All Blacks training match is "pretty full-on".

"I remember before the last World Cup, we had a game in Auckland like that. They got a referee in for that game," he said.

"When you've got (hooker) Dane Coles and the likes of Brodie Retallick and those kinds of players, there's always going to be a bit of niggle but that's always good."

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