Pos­i­tive signs, but lack of speed un­der­mines Jones’ vi­sion

Eng­land’s coach is try­ing to make sub­tle changes with a view to the World Cup but slug­gish move­ment meant this looked like their first game for a while

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union -

Frus­tra­tion is what all the Eng­land play­ers and coaches will be feel­ing, not just Ed­die Jones when he was caught on cam­era bang­ing the ta­ble. There were good things in the win over Ar­gentina, with Eng­land de­vel­op­ing com­bi­na­tions that are worth look­ing at again.

When a game is as slow as that, the dan­ger is you try to force things.

Eng­land could not get through the phases and ac­cel­er­ate their con­tact work. It really did look like their first game to­gether for a while.

The over­rid­ing is­sue for Jones is bound to be Eng­land’s at­tack­ing sys­tem and how slowly they shifted from ruck to ruck. Be­cause of that lack of speed, Ben Youngs was un­able to snipe around the fringes and Eng­land’s mo­men­tum dried up. Jones and Eng­land are clearly try­ing to im­ple­ment a sys­tem where their for­wards pair up more in the wider chan­nels, with a view to the next Rugby World Cup, but it will take time.

Eng­land played off nine and 10 at the wrong times. For me they should have been look­ing to at­tack wider from the set-pieces when you have more space and then ac­cel­er­ate the groups into the next phases of at­tack. This then gives run­ning op­tions off 9, 10 and 12 and the op­por­tu­nity for a se­ries of quick break­downs which then cre­ate the gen­uine at­tack­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

From this comes the chance to sep­a­rate the for­wards into paired at­tack­ing units.

In the first half Eng­land de­lib­er­ately tried to go blind to a pair of for­ward run­ners. Court­ney Lawes and Maro Itoje are nat­u­ral at that, with Lawes re­leas­ing Rob­shaw in the first half. You can see tac­ti­cally where Eng­land want to go with how they use and sep­a­rate their for­wards. Two of their most sig­nif­i­cant at­tacks came off a loop pass from Mako Vu­nipola in the 13 chan­nel. The loop pass from a for­ward in con­tact to a run­ning back can be stun­ningly ef­fec­tive. Do­ing that keeps the tempo up and cre­ates mis­matches and Eng­land failed to cre­ate enough of those, with Alex Lo­zowski’s sec­ond-half break an ex­cep­tion. Yes­ter­day, the tim­ing was not quite there. Owen Far­rell was missed be­cause Semesa Roko­duguni and El­liot Daly were un­able to get into the game. He sees the game early, and this is where your best play­ers do make an im­pact.

The other ar­eas of exasperation will be the lack of va­ri­ety in their kick­ing game. I felt that they failed to fully utilise the dif­fer­ent op­tion of Henry Slade’s left boot at in­side cen­tre. Kick­ing from wider po­si­tions, and later, puts far more pres­sure on the de­ci­sion-mak­ing for the op­po­si­tion back three. Fi­nally, the way that Ar­gentina took con­trol of the fi­nal 10 min­utes, with Eng­land strug­gling to get their hands on the ball, will con­cern Jones with the Rugby World Cup in mind, when clos­ing out matches on your own terms is es­sen­tial. There were pos­i­tives, too, it should be pointed out. Jones hav­ing no doubt spo­ken to his Li­ons play­ers who were in New Zealand, Eng­land’s de­fen­sive line speed was no­tice­ably much faster than last year. If you can take time and space away, that be­comes crit­i­cal against the best in the world, as you will see in the Rugby World Cup. There was a sig­nif­i­cant change in their line speed and kick-chase, which I thought was first class.

The first tackle and sec­ond man in were stop­ping the Ar­gen­tine play­ers on the gain-line, or knock­ing them back­wards, in a domino ef­fect. Eng­land played on the front foot in de­fence as a re­sult of cu­mu­la­tive pres­sure, which is key for win­ning a Rugby World Cup.

That area will have a ma­jor im­pact on the re­sults and the score­board, and we saw a sig­nif­i­cant leap fol­low­ing on from what the Li­ons did, which was to cre­ate a line speed that was faster than the south­ern hemi­sphere had ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore.

As for Sam Un­der­hill, I thought the Bath open­side started very well. One rea­son why Eng­land dom­i­nated was his tack­ling, his de­fence. For a first cap at home he was ex­cel­lent. From your seven you would also like to see him on the shoul­ders of cen­tres and car­ry­ing the ball, to add to his high­power de­fen­sive work. He is ar­guably not a nat­u­ral ball-car­rier but needs to get his hands on the ball as part of those at­tack­ing pairs. With that Test un­der his belt, it’s amaz­ing what a game like that will do for him men­tally. His brain will think and re­act quicker, and good play­ers just get bet­ter and bet­ter. He can be very pleased with his per­for­mance.

Look­ing to next week, Far­rell and Itoje will both be ex­pected to re­turn for Eng­land’s big­gest match against Aus­tralia. Your good play­ers read the game early and those two, no doubt frus­trated to be rested against Ar­gentina, fit that mould.

Itoje re­turn­ing into the side will raise the ques­tion of whether you part­ner him with his Sara­cens team-mate George Kruis, or al­ter­na­tively move one of either Itoje or Lawes to the blind­side to add an­other ball-car­rier into the back row. Chris Rob­shaw and Un­der­hill are not nat­u­ral ball-car­ri­ers in that re­gard.

Mike Brown go­ing off in the first half gave An­thony Wat­son an op­por­tu­nity at full-back. He is a nat­u­ral counter-at­tacker, but I would have pre­ferred to see him, af­ter catch­ing kicks, pass to the wider sup­port, which was there, and then look to get his hands on the ball a sec­ond time from a late-run­ning sup­port po­si­tion. I am still cer­tain that Jones’s pre­ferred back three fea­tures El­liot Daly and Wat­son on the wings with Brown at full-back, and while Brown is solid, Wat­son is an ex­cit­ing al­ter­na­tive.

I was par­tic­u­larly im­pressed with Vu­nipola, Lawes and Un­der­hill, but also George Ford at fly-half and Lo­zowski when he came on.

Lo­zowski, much like his Sara­cens team-mate Far­rell, is an­other one of those play­ers who just sees things long be­fore they hap­pen. Eng­land will need all those top play­ers against the Wal­la­bies.

The way Ar­gentina took con­trol of the fi­nal 10 min­utes will con­cern Jones

Hope for the fu­ture: Jonathan Joseph beats Ma­tias Moroni to the ball (above), while rested Owen Far­rell (left) hands out the wa­ter

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