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
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