>> Guscott: Brown or Watson? Jury’s out
Mike Brown’s early replacement gave us a glimpse of what a new back three may look like with Anthony Watson switching to full-back and looking comfortable throughout.
Watson’s grown as a player and developed so much over the last 12 months so that now when he catches the ball, he looks up and is a real threat each time, especially when attacking from those deep positions rather than out on the wing.
He has a vast skillset and mixes his game well, but I would be surprised if Eddie Jones doesn’t stick with Brown as his No.1 full-back in the build-up to the World Cup.
Brown, below, like Dylan Hartley, is under pressure for his position but they are not picked for ability alone – it’s their leadership qualities that Jones rates highly and there is still no one to rival Brown’s dogged determination and prowess in the air.
The Harlequins No.15 has been a mainstay in the side for the whole of Jones’ tenure, but there is no doubt for me England look to have far more of a threat with Watson wearing the jersey. We know his try-scoring ability and speed to beat a man and he’s certainly improved under the high ball. That area of his game would not be a major con- cern now for the England coach as it was 18 months ago. The main question for me is who would be able to take that killer chance in a World Cup final? Which of Watson and Brown would spot the overlap, for example, and have the necessary skillset to give the scoring pass to the man in space. That’s still the big question mark over Brown, although in fairness it is my one and only doubt over Brown and is that worth making the change now? I’m not sure, yet. The whole team know they will have to up the ante massively for Australia next week. Jones talks about closing the gap on New Zealand but I think the All Blacks would have put 40 or 50 points on Argentina yesterday. This is not a good Pumas team and, to me, England are suffering from over-familiarity. That’s why we saw so many frustrated faces both from the players and coaching staff at the final whistle. It was a massive opportunity to show how much they have moved on, especially after spending a week in Portugal training together – but it was a very rusty performance overall. One major positive was the performance of Bath openside Sam Underhill, who gave us a lesson in tackling. He also showed his fitness by getting back up off the deck to challenge for the ball or make another hit. His work rate was superb, as was
that of Courtney Lawes.
Henry Slade did well in place of Owen Farrell, but his partnership with George Ford wasn’t breathtaking and it offered little more than the tried and tested combination. I’d like to see Slade in more of an attacking role but yesterday he seemed to be in a defensive role for much of the game, which didn’t show his true potential.
The pair linked well for Semesa Rokoduguni’s try and it was a sensational long looping pass from Slade to put the flyer away and that’s where the two-playmaker package works, something we’ve seen on numerous occasions with Ford and Farrell.
The line speed in defence has improved and that will only get better with improved fitness, which Eddie has highlighted recently.
But it must have been a hellishly frustrating game to play in.
I’ve not seen a Pumas side this poor in a long time, it was only two years ago that Argentina could tear any
Main question for me is who would be able to take that killer chance in a World Cup final? Which of Watson or Brown would spot the overlap?
team apart at the World Cup, and did.
They went through the phases and maintained possession but they can’t penetrate defences like they used to. Their try through Nicolas Sanchez came after 30 phases in which they ground England down.
I think they are a stale team and play too much together as the Jaguares and then the Pumas – it’s as if they’re together 12 months of the year and lack fresh, new ideas. They’ll struggle unless they pick some of their many talented overseas men.
Eddie is pushing the players to get their hands on the ball and make an impact and there is still some way to go. When the ante is turned up next week I think the players will respond.
The players know that no one is nailed on and Jones will not be afraid to drop someone. The team will not be as bad next week because. if they fail to win, a lot of players will be out of the Samoa game.
Jones has the likes of Farrell and Maro Itoje to come back into the mix next week and having rested them this week they’ll be raring for a star. I’m not sure Jones will parachute them in because although it’s an important game, it’s not a must-win.
Jones knows the bigger picture is a long run in to the World Cup and he wants his back-up men to show they are good enough to start.
Failing to put this average Pumas team to the slaughter was not how Jones would have expected the autumn to begin and the players must step up next week against a fastimproving Wallabies outfit.
Impressive skillset: Anthony Watson, tackled here by Emiliano Boffelli, shone at full-back
Needs more attacking role: Henry Slade looks to offload