Eng­land need to re­dis­cover mo­men­tum for Aus­tralia chal­lenge

The Guardian - Sport - - Rugby Union Autumn Internationals - Robert Kit­son

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 grindathon” 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 fuck­ing 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 back row. 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-on­the-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.

There was, in short, very lit­tle of the col­lec­tive ur­gency dis­played by Ire­land against South Africa in Dublin, a game which also sub­verted many of the avail­able ex­cuses for Eng­land’s slug­gish­ness. All the Ir­ish Li­ons looked bang up for it, their mid­field made a ma­jor im­pact and Joe Sch­midt’s side look to be on the up. Eng­land, re­stricted to 37% 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 suf­fi­ciently from a nasty early tum­ble and Jonny May’s ham­string re­cov­more

Maro Itoje, known as one of Sara­cens’ mus­ke­teers, was left on the side­lines for the Ar­gentina match but could well re­turn on Sat­ur­day

ers, 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.

Jones is yet to con­firm any­thing, other than want­ing “Aus­tralia to bring their best game to Twick­en­ham and then see if we can han­dle it”. Jamie George, El­lis Genge and Harry Wil­liams, all pow­er­ful ball­car­ri­ers, must be given at least one start­ing op­por­tu­nity this month – and Joe Mar­ler is avail­able again – while the back-row 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 back-row car­ry­ing sin­gle-handed. On Sat­ur­day Hughes car­ried for 79 me­tres,

Alex Lo­zowski made a su­perb line break for Eng­land af­ter be­ing brought on as a re­place­ment cen­tre against Ar­gentina

than all the other seven mem­bers of the pack and the for­ward re­place­ments com­bined.

At least Simmonds has his pre­cious first cap, which he cel­e­brated by singing Build Me Up But­ter­cup in the dress­ing room rather than on the team bus as tra­di­tion now dic­tates. Eng­land also now sing a team song writ­ten by May but, out­side the dress­ing room, Sat­ur­day’s en­ter­tain­ment was mostly to be found at the bot­tom of a glass. The prici­est seats for the Aus­tralia game now cost £127 and, if Eng­land are not

Eng­land’s most dra­matic flour­ish was Jones slam­ming down his note­book

Lau­rence Grif­fiths/Getty Im­ages

Rose among the thorns

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