Jones admits frustration as England grind out victory
Eddie Jones, the England head coach, admitted he was “frustrated” after TV cameras caught him slamming his notepad into a bench and cursing as his side struggled to overcome Argentina, although they did eventually gather themselves to win 21-8.
He conceded it had been “a grindathon”, and that “our fluency and understanding were not there”. Even so, it was England’s 20th win in 21 Tests under Jones, who pledged: “We will be so much better next week,” when Australia come to Twickenham.
The Australian had not realised the cameras were on him as he lost his cool around the hour mark after a penalty award against flanker Sam Underhill.
“I haven’t seen it,” said Jones. “How frustrated? Throwing stuff? That is pretty frustrated. We want to play good rugby. I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be frustrated.”
He will have to make changes to shake his team from the torpor that afflicted them for much of a dreary game. Owen Farrell, who was on water-boy duties, and Maro Itoje are expected to return, having been rested after their exploits for the Lions in New Zealand.
Mike Brown, England’s full-back, was forced off the field in the 22nd minute after a mid-air collision with his opposite number, Joaquin Tuculet, who was sent to the sin-bin.
“Brown will have to do a return to play as he was hit pretty heavily,” said Jones, who put his side’s rustiness down to having had only four proper training sessions.
“We had opportunities to score more points and just lacked that understanding,” he added. We are hoping Australia bring their absolute best game and see where we are at.”
We might have expected a few lingering fireworks so soon after Guy Fawkes’ day but instead it was a bonfire of English vanities that blew up in Twickenham faces.
England have been so bullish, so public about their desire to reach new standards and take their game to a different level in their quest to topple New Zealand as the No1-ranked side in the world that this jerky, fractured performance can only serve to remind everyone just how far they must go to match, let alone eclipse, the All Blacks.
It was their worst display under Eddie Jones, lacking in vitality and cleverness. It was no surprise when the TV cameras caught the England head coach smashing his notepad into the coaches’ bench in frustration midway through the second half. The Rugby Football Union has just renewed its sponsorship with Guinness and this was suitably black stuff.
It was not until the 66th minute that England pulled clear with their second try scored by replacement Semesa Rokoduguni, although that was almost ruled out for a forward pass by Henry Slade, who had an underwhelming afternoon in the shirt normally worn by Owen Farrell. Such a stop-start game did not suit Slade’s style but the Exeter playmaker will be disappointed.
So staccato was the general play that you had to make sure that the markings still visible from the recent American Football matches here were not actually meant to be still in use. It was 10 metres forward, churn-and-go, infringement, error and ever on and on.
England have to quickly regroup for Australia are headed their way, a much tougher assignment. The return of a rejuvenated Farrell and Maro Itoje will bring much-needed devil.
There were some upbeat tidings, the bullocking form of No 8 Nathan Hughes and the dogged application of prop Mako Vunipola. Anthony Watson was sporadically sprightly and although flanker Sam Underhill began well, he conceded a couple of penalties. England need a serious revving-up before they take on the Wallabies.
It is not as if this was a vintage Argentina. In their most recent pomp of a couple of years ago, the Pumas would have presented a formidable challenge and would have been much closer on the scoreboard if they had not spurned 12 points in missing four penalty shots at goal.
These days, though, Argentina are plucky rather than irresistible. True, they have been hardened by being constantly under the cosh in the Rugby Championship but with only one win in 12 months (against Georgia), they are far from their former exalted status, albeit they did deserve their late, scampering try from Nicolas Sanchez.
Argentina knew they had to fight for every inch of turf, heave hard at every scrum and contest every ball. That zeal needs fine-line decision-making. It did not happen like that. In the 22nd minute the Pumas’ full-back, Joaquin Tuculet, came clattering in as Mike Brown rose to take a high ball. It was not the most heinous mid-air collision but it was enough to see Tuculet dispatched to the sin-bin and Brown, who landed on his head, taken off for assessment.
Brown is one of Jones’s go-to men, “the custodian” at the rear as he calls him, the preferred option in 19 of Jones’s 20 Tests in charge, the player who sets the tone. Brown did not reappear. He has had problems with concussion in the past, taking a terrible blow against Italy in Feb 2015 and missing the rest of the season.
England took advantage of their 10minute superiority in numbers. Within two minutes they had scored their first
try. Hughes has grown into international rugby, aware that his audition might only last as long as Billy Vunipola’s absence – effectively this November series.
The Wasps back-rower is a different player to Vunipola, more dynamic, thrusting rather than churning through tackles. And it showed. Hughes was in the thick of the action from the first whistle, offering himself, smashing through the traffic.
He has finally begun to transfer his club form into the international arena. It promises to deliver significant things if his maiden try in the 23rd minute is anything to go by. With Argentina down to 14 men there was space out wide, where Hughes was lurking. All it needed was for someone to have the vision and skill to spot the possibility.
There are few more alert and aware players on a rugby field than George Ford. The fly-half fizzed out a huge pass over the head of four players to Hughes. The No 8 reached, caught, juggled, held the ball in his right hand, steamed forward, swapped it to his left hand as he cut inside Emiliano Boffelli to touch down. It was a fabulous finish.
Where once there was a dearth of openside flankers, now there is a crop.
Underhill has won his way into the starting shirt on the strength of some commanding performances for Bath. Underhill is a glue player, always where the ball is. He is an implacable force in the tackle, going in low and nailing his man, as he showed from the off when chopping down the Argentina centre Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias.
There was little clear-cut action through the game. It is rare that you crave substitutions being made for it often diminishes the spectacle. Yet so turgid and uneventful were proceedings that the game cried out for someone to grab it by the scruff of the neck.
The only player who did that was Saracens’ Alex Lozowski, who made a lovely arcing break past Matias Alemanno four minutes after coming on for Jonathan Joseph in the 62nd minute. From there, England managed to recycle the ball, Slade eventually finding Rokoduguni on the wide outside, the Bath wing crashing over in the corner, Ford converting.
Argentina, though, were not to be quelled, Sanchez scoring in the 78th minute. A miserably low-key afternoon was then mercifully brought to a close.
Scoring 3-0 Ford pen, 3-3 Boffelli pen, 6-3 Ford pen, 11-3 Hughes try, 14-3 Ford pen, 19-3 Rokoduguni try, 21-3 Ford con, 21-8 Sanchez try. Referee M van der Westhuizen (South Africa).
Ground force: Nathan Hughes scores the first of England’s two tries in the 21-8 victory over Argentina at Twickenham yesterday. Head coach Eddie Jones was exasperated by the hosts’ failure to exploit many of their chances
High point: Semesa Rokoduguni goes over in the corner for England’s second try, a rare moment to savour on a disappointing afternoon for the home side
The book bounces back Jones asks afterwards: ‘Why shouldn’t I get frustrated?’ Pity poor Underhill...
I can’t believe it! Eddie Jones loses his cool after flanker Sam Underhill goes off his feet to concede a penalty
Oh crumbs! The England coach lets rip as he colourfully ponders how the home debutant could be so daft
The notebook goes flying Jones usually keeps his cool - in public at least - and a display of rage is rare