Eng­land fail to sparkle in ‘a grind-athon’

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Rugby | Autumn Internationals - ROBERT KITSON at Twick­en­ham

Eng­land 20 Ar­gentina 8

To say the week­end’s other games in Cardiff, Dublin and Paris put Eng­land’s -open­ing au­tumn ef­fort into sharp per­spec­tive is the un­der­state­ment of the sea­son. When Ed­die Jones called it “a grinda-thon” he was be­ing gen­er­ous and the con­test with Aus­tralia on Satur­day will end un­hap­pily un­less his team show more dy­namism up front and lo­cate some rhythm be­hind. The head coach’s blunt sec­ond-half out­burst – “How eff­ing stupid are we?” – did not bode well, ei­ther.

As any­one who stayed awake long enough will tes­tify there was - lit­er­ally - a yawn­ing gap be­tween Eng­land’s pre match rhetoric and what they ul­ti­mately de­liv­ered at Twick­en­ham. One post-match sug­ges­tion was that it was all a dev­il­ish Jones mas­ter­plan to lull the Wal­la­bies into a sense of false se­cu­rity.

In fair­ness, Eng­land’s de­fence was largely ex­cel­lent and Sam Un­der­hill and Nathan Hughes both en­hanced their rep­u­ta­tions in the back­row. Eng­land re­main un­beaten at home un­der Jones and have now won 20 of their 21 in­ter­na­tion­als since the Aus­tralian took over.

Against the Wal­la­bies, even so, Eng­land will be un­der pres­sure to dis­prove the nig­gling the­ory that their rate of progress is slow­ing and that they are overly re­liant on their three Sara­cens’ mus­ke­teers, Owen Far­rell, Maro Itoje and the in­jured Billy Vu­nipola. That was cer­tainly the ver­dict of the Twick­en­ham jury on Satur­day, with the sta­dium at­mos­phere about as an­i­mated as a fort­nightly bridge night in Stow-on-the-Wold.

Eng­land’s backs ap­peared to have been only re­cently in­tro­duced to each other and by far the most dra­matic flour­ish came when Jones was caught on cam­era slam­ming down his note­book like a hol­i­day­maker who has reached the check-in desk only to re­alise his fam­ily’s pass­ports are sit­ting on the kitchen ta­ble.

With­out the ar­rival of one or two lively English sub­sti­tutes, most no­tably Alex Lo­zowski whose swift iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of a mid­field mis­match es­tab­lished the bridge­head from which Semesa Roko­duguni, still a serv­ing sol­dier in the Bri­tish Army, scored his clinch­ing try, it would have been the least mem­o­rable of Re­mem­brance week­end games. Even that did not as­sist Jones much; if Lo­zowski starts it can only be in­stead of ei­ther Far­rell or Ge­orge Ford while Roko­duguni’s three tries in three Tests have taken three years to amass.

Col­lec­tive ur­gency

There was, in short, very lit­tle of the col­lec­tive ur­gency dis­played by Ire­land against South Africa in Dublin. Eng­land, re­stricted to just 37 per cent pos­ses­sion, may of­fi­cially be the world’s sec­ond high­est-ranked team but, rust or no rust, they are not con­sis­tently play­ing like it.

That is prob­a­bly rea­son enough to re­call Far­rell and Itoje to the start­ing XV to face the Wal­la­bies. As­sum­ing Mike Brown re­cov­ers from a nasty early tum­ble and Jonny May’s ham­string re­cov­ers, Jones will then have a key judg­ment call to make. While Henry Slade did not en­joy his great­est day in a home mid­field hand­i­capped by the twin shack­les of slow ball and lim­ited game-time to­gether, there re­mains a good case for start­ing him at No13 along­side Far­rell and re­tain­ing Lo­zowski on the bench for an­other sec­ond-half flour­ish.

Jamie Ge­orge, El­lis Genge and Harry Wil­liams, all pow­er­ful ball-car­ri­ers, must be given at least one start­ing op­por­tu­nity this month while the back­row bal­ance re­mains a co­nun­drum. Un­der­hill and Chris Rob­shaw do plenty of don­key work but Jones must be in­creas­ingly tempted to try Court­ney Lawes on the blind­side flank.

If Hughes were to go down in the first minute against Aus­tralia, it will be a big ask for Ex­eter’s Sam Sim­monds to do the back­row car­ry­ing sin­gle-handed. On Satur­day Hughes car­ried for 79 me­tres, more than all the other seven mem­bers of the pack and the for­ward re­place­ments com­bined.

Hughes’ one-handed catch for his first try when the Pu­mas were down to 14 men, Lo­zowski’s sharp break, the spec­tac­u­lar restart work of Ar­gentina’s winger Ramiro Moy­ano and one lovely flick from the great Juan Martín Hernán­dez on his fi­nal Twick­en­ham Test ap­pear­ance – the af­ter­noon was not en­tirely bereft of charm.

It is also pos­si­ble to ar­gue Eng­land were for­tu­nate in places, with Joaquín Tu­culet un­lucky to be sent to the sin-bin for his gen­uine at­tempt to com­pete with Brown in the air, and Slade’s scor­ing pass to Roko­duguni spark­ing an­other te­dious physics de­bate about mo­men­tum and stuff be­ing thrown from mov­ing trains. If Aus­tralia are to be halted in their tracks this week­end, their hosts will have to im­prove sig­nif­i­cantly.


Henry Slade of Eng­land tack­les Emil­iano Bof­felli of Ar­gentina dur­ing the Test match at Twick­en­ham on Satur­day.

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