For England, this is no 2002, when Japanese women queued to stay in the Awaji Island hotel room David Beckham had slept in, and Sven-Goran Eriksson's "golden generation" were bizarrely big in Japan.

Maro Itoje, perhaps the most glamorous of Eddie Jones' players, is not pretending that England have been mobbed by the local population at this World Cup. Jones has, for his coaching role in Japan's seismic win over South Africa in Brighton four years ago, but his squad have yet to register on the celebrity meter, despite a rich depth of talent and two pool-stage wins.

"A little bit. Not anything extraordinary," Itoje says of the attention he has drawn on the streets. Is adoration from complete strangers a catalyst for World Cup triumphs?

Almost certainly not, despite the hoopla around Wales attracting 15,000 to an early training session. England's open practice runs have been so low-key that the press were not invited. That speaks of a wish not to take on extra brand-building. A big turnout by curious locals would boost the egos of Jones' players, but would not win them games. England's profile will rise a notch if they beat Argentina tonight and then come through against France.


But they are not courting popularity or future Far East deals in the way Beckham did in the football World Cup of 17 years ago. There are several "characters" in the squad — Kyle Sinckler and Joe Marler — but no one who could stand like Romeo on a hotel balcony waving to dozens of Juliets below, as Beckham did at England's team hotel.

"Obviously, Eddie was the Japan coach so he always had that connection with them," Itoje says. "They do go pretty crazy for Eddie — he's very popular out here."

There will be no waiting list, though, to stay in his old hotel room.

At Fuchu Asahi Football Park for a one-hour open session, 600 local people turned up, many waving England flags. But the headcount suggests curiosity more than mania. When John Mitchell, the England defence coach, said the purpose was to "win hearts and supporters" across Japan, you could almost hear Jones' mental gears cranking. "I think we are connecting really well with the local communities and fans and it's not a false situation," Mitchell said.

All Jones will be "connecting" with is his plan to reach next month's final in Yokohama.

Itoje is one strong candidate for the billboards, where New Zealand's stars vie for space with the heroes of Japan's stunning win over Ireland.

The England players wave to the crowd following their 45-7 win over the United States in their Rugby World Cup Pool C game at Kobe Misaki Stadium. Photo / AP
The England players wave to the crowd following their 45-7 win over the United States in their Rugby World Cup Pool C game at Kobe Misaki Stadium. Photo / AP

The All Black mystique is strong. Jones, meanwhile, has deflected interest that might have attached itself to his players, and England have travelled around Japan like silent warriors with only one kind of fame in mind. Even the growing optimism at home has failed to make it through to the camp. "Not really," Itoje says. "I know there'll be an interest and I think as the competition grows that interest will increase."

This hype-piercing answer is in line with England's wish to avoid sideshows. Not that they are trapped inside their compounds. If intestinal fortitude has been a theme in the build-up to the Argentina game, Itoje even found guts coming up on the menu on a recent dining trip in Kobe.


"We were looking for somewhere to eat and walked into a restaurant that looked quite appetising,'' he said. ''As we got in, the guy said, 'intestines, intestines'. I said, 'Do you have anything else?' and he said, 'No, just intestines'."

England have spent their time productively on the PR margins, but a good win against the Pumas would push them centre stage. Itoje, who will face Argentina for the first time, says: "They are obviously very passionate, a very proud nation, they have a strong forward pack, strong lineout, strong scrum, and very dynamic backs. Very physical as well. It is the type of game I love playing and the type of game in which I look forward to getting out there.

"Everything is insular at the moment. Everyone's trying to prepare well, trying to train well, trying to push this team in the right direction. Maybe when you're like that, you do miss some things out on the periphery."

But he does like Tokyo: "It's a cool place. It's a bit of a concrete jungle, but I like it. I'm a city man. I love cities. I don't think I could live anywhere that's not a city.''

At 24, and with a starring role already on a Lions tour of New Zealand, Itoje is the England player best placed to acquire cult status this far from home. Except that Jones prefers the collective to the individual.

"I would say that as a group we're the tightest we have ever been,'' said Itoje.

After 2002, residents of the so-called "Beckham belt" in Cheshire noticed an upsurge in Japanese tourist visits. So far, there has not been a comparable surge of bookings for Camden, where Itoje was born. But success is the real magnet and England's pulling power ought to grow.