England coach Eddie Jones said he would seek divine intervention after being handed a fiendishly difficult 2019 Rugby World Cup draw in Kyoto on Wednesday.
The 2003 champions were bracketed alongside France and Argentina in Pool C as lightning struck twice following a brutal draw at the 2015 tournament.
Asked about negotiating what French counterpart Guy Noves described as the pool of “death”, Jones joked that he would head for one of Kyoto’s famed temples to ask for help.
“I’m going to visit the temples because I need to pray now,” the Australian told reporters.
“I need to pray really hard.”
However, Jones insisted England would be ready to exorcise the demons of their disastrous 2015 campaign, when they became the first host team to crash out at the pool stage after being drawn with Wales, Australia, Fiji and Uruguay.
“Who’s calling it the Group of Death?” he asked, shortly after Noves and Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade had done just that.
“No one’s going to die,” added Jones, who has led England to back-to-back Six Nations titles since taking over from Stuart Lancaster.
“It’s simple — you’ve got to prepare well at the World Cup. You’ve got to beat good teams and we’ve got two big games against France and Argentina. We’ll do that, it’s a prospect that we’re excited by. Here we go!”
Noves, by contrast, pulled few punches as he looked ahead to the 2019 tournament in Japan.
“It’s a death pool for sure,” he winced. “It’s very difficult. We will look to build confidence and find the solidarity to get as close as possible to maximum strength at the World Cup.”
England, who were denied a world-record 19th straight win and a second successive Grand Slam by Ireland in March, are also set to face either the United States or Canada, and Fiji or Samoa in a devilish group.
But Jones put a positive spin on having to play three-time runners-up France and a potent Argentine side who reached their second World Cup semi-final in 2015.
“My experience of the World Cup is that to have two tough games is the best preparation to go through,” he said.
“France are probably one of the most improved teams in the world and Argentina are improving rapidly. “We want to win the World Cup so the onus is on us to keep getting better.” – Agence France-Presse