Jones eager to combine high-tempo approach with element of control
England will wear dark grey for their opening autumn Test against Argentina but a dull, monochrome contest is unlikely. Eddie Jones did not get where he is today by encouraging his teams to tiptoe hesitantly from the changing sheds and a colourful reaction can be guaranteed should his players contrive to lose to opponents whom they have already beaten three times in the last 12 months.
Even without the injured Billy Vunipola plus the rested Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell, England’s players have been challenged since August to make a serious statement from the outset of the Old Mutual Wealth Series. Jones does not want England to copy New Zealand stylistically but he would not mind cloning a touch of All Black ruthlessness.
It is not a precise comparison but, as Japan proved so memorably against South Africa in the opening game of the 2015 Rugby World Cup in Brighton, the longer Jones has to prepare for a specific game the more interesting the results tend to be.
Anyone even mentioning Australia this week has been shoved instantly back in their box, microphone askew. The Pumas are the only current target, not least because they will be sharing England’s pool in Japan in 2019.
The corresponding fixture last year did not pan out as planned, the game barely five minutes old when Elliot Daly became the first England back to be given a red card at Twickenham. Vunipola also departed prematurely with a knee injury and Dan Cole’s sin-binning reduced the home side to only 13 men at one stage. They won 27-14 but ultimately it was more an exercise in crisis management than crisp perfection.
Two high-scoring summer Tests in Argentina subsequently saw England triumphant in the absence of their Lions players, adding a further layer of expectancy to this latest reunion with the Pumas. Jones is fully respectful of Argentina’s own pent-up motivation but does not have infinite time in which to tinker before the gravitational pull of 2019 intensifies.
Which is why, in every sense, he is demanding a fast start now. England will seek to play at high tempo but with a healthy element of calculation and control. The management will want to see, specifically, whether George Ford, Henry Slade and Jonathan Joseph can forge a proactive midfield alliance, whether Sam Underhill is as effective a breakdown operator at this level as many anticipate and whether there is enough star quality across the starting XV to cover the absence of probably the team’s three best players.
The absence of Farrell will deprive England of their main safety blanket. Ford went well in Argentina but he has not always found goal-kicking simple at Twickenham; while he is earmarked to assume the captaincy when Dylan Hartley goes off, there will be major competition for his starting place against the Wallabies if Slade has a stormer and a frustrated Farrell is cleared to return.
The Pumas, even in the absence of some influential overseas-based players, remain a better team than eight defeats in nine Tests this year might suggest. The 24-year-old flanker Pablo Matera and left winger Emiliano Boffelli, only 22, will need watching, as will their captain Agustín Creevy, Hartley’s opposite number.
England, nevertheless, will still expect to pull away in the second half by at least 10 points unless Jones’s strict pre-match instructions fade to grey in the wash.
ENGLAND: M Brown; A Watson, J Joseph, H Slade, ED aly;GFo rd, BYoungs;MVu nip ola, D Hartley( capt ), DC ole, C Law es, GK ru is, C Rob shaw, S Under hill, N Hughes. Replacements: J George, E Gen ge, H Williams, J Launch bury, S Simmonds, DC are, AL oz ow ski, SRokodugu ni. ARGENTINA: S Garcia Bot ta, AC re evy, NT etaz,M Ale man no, T Lava ni ni, PM at era, MK re mer, T Le zan a, M Land ajo,JM Hernandez, R Mo ya no, SIG onzalez,M Moroni, EB off elli,JTucul et. Replace men ts:JM onto ya,LNogu era Paz, E Pier et to, B Mac ome,L Sen a tore, GB er tranou,N Sanchez, S Cancel lie re. Referee: Marius van der West hui zen( South Africa ).
Sam Underhill: was England’s top tackler on his debut during tour of Argentina