England ‘will not fall for Pumas’ two-card trick’
Jones refuses to change style after jibes Mako Vunipola, Nowell and Slade return to 23
Eddie Jones has stated that England will not fall for the “two-card trick” that was played on them in the 1991 final when taunted by Australia into changing their “boring” style of play and will head into tomorrow’s crunch pool game against Argentina with the strongest, most versatile squad he has fielded in this World Cup.
This is England’s “gun” 23, a multi-faceted group who include for the first time on the bench three of their most highly-regarded players, prop Mako Vunipola, wing Jack Nowell and centre Henry Slade, who are all returning from injury.
The punch and versatility that this trio alone possess put paid to the notion of England as a staid, one-dimensional side, as described by Pumas squad captain Agustin Creevy, and, as a hustler himself, coach Jones has no intention of being suckered as England were by one of his own mentors, former Wallaby coach Bob Dwyer.
“It is the old two-card trick,” said Jones, who has selected from strength with all 31 players available. “Bob threw that one out there before the 1991 final and there was a response from the England side.
“Maybe if they hadn’t played like that they would now have two World Cups on their sleeves. There are many different ways to play the game. I give you a book and you think it is interesting, I give it to someone else and he thinks it is rubbish, so what is right? Nothing is right. Find a way to play the game effectively, that’s all that matters.
“That is the great thing about our game. We know what we are good at. Like any good batsman you can get seduced every now and then by a loose ball outside the off stump. But, by and large, I think we are pretty disciplined.”
That much is reflected in this selection, where the only surprise, one that would not even register a flicker of the Richter needle, is that rookie Lewis Ludlam is preferred as back-row cover to Mark Wilson, who was England’s standout performer in the autumn Tests.
England have experimented, as well as grafted, to get to this point, where faith is now placed in tried and trusted combinations that offer them the ability to keep it tight or to spread it wide, where the pace of a Jonny May can cut through an opposition.
England are an all-court side with enough possible shifts of style and tempo available to them, be it the deft kicking of George Ford, in a tournament where kicking has become all-important as the humid conditions impact on handling, or the booming left-footed option offered by Elliot Daly or Slade from the bench.
Their forwards pack a punch, too, not in the grinding, close-quarters manner implicit in Creevy’s comments, but in the thrusting ball-carrying of the Vunipola brothers or in the subtle interventions of tighthead Kyle Sinckler. Certainly, the return of Mako Vunipola to the first-team squad is a boon, for the team but also for his brother, Billy, who seems to lift his game whenever his elder sibling is on the field, too.
“Yes, 100 per cent,” said Jones in agreement. “There is something about brothers and families that distinguish them from just being friends and I think that carries a lot of weight. Mako is the best loosehead in the world. He is a senior counsel for our team. We have a reasonably young team and Mako has that calmness. It’s always like that with two brothers.
“One’s a bit more volatile, the other more settled, so Mako was always up at the front of the car with the parents while Billy was in the back, screaming. Billy is great for us because he has got that fire and temperament and you want that from your No8. You look at the history of the World Cups and they’ve always been won by big No8s.”
England have opted for the double-banked openside flanker set-up either side of Billy Vunipola, with Jones believing that there has been greater scope for contesting the breakdown in this World Cup and has backed the Tom Curry and Sam Underhill combo to deliver great yield in that facet.
There is another player honed in those self-same skills and that is Nowell, restored to the colours for the first time since damaging knee and ankle ligaments in the Premiership final, a match in which he had ruled the roost over an impressively talented Saracens side, only to be forced off with injury.
The Exeter player then succumbed to appendicitis during England’s training camp in Treviso, a run of bad luck that would test the most resilient of characters. Nowell also offers a unique perspective on wing play. If nothing else, England’s replacement bench is laden with the sort of quality and variety that will trouble the Pumas.
“Jack could play anywhere from six/seven/eight to anywhere in the backline competently,” said Jones. “He has amazing fighting spirit. He works so hard for the team, and is a really good team man. And, while cohesion is important in your squad, you also have to have flexibility.”
England have certainly got that in their ranks.
Welcome return: Jack Nowell is back on the England bench for tomorrow’s game