Jones show is back on the road to World Cup

Two Tests have restored Eng­land’s prospects and sud­denly talk of No1 does not seem so far fetched

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union - Paul Hay­ward CHIEF SPORTS WRITER at Twick­en­ham

On an es­ca­la­tor out of Twick­en­ham a New Zealan­der shouted: “It was off­side and you know it.” An English­man in a stripy blazer called back: “We all know Richie Mc­Caw wrote the off­side rules.” What­ever the bad­i­nage be­tween the fans, a re­view sys­tem that saved Eng­land seven days ago de­prived them of an epic win over the world cham­pi­ons.

Ed­die Jones has started talk­ing again about Eng­land’s am­bi­tion to be the “No 1 team in the world.” He did it on Thurs­day at the train­ing base and he made the same ref­er­ence in the post-match press con­fer­ence here.

This noble aim was shelved when Eng­land were los­ing six of seven matches; but con­fi­dence is creep­ing back, with or with­out mar­ginal calls by of­fi­cials. So Mr Twick­en­ham, in his stripy jacket, need not de­spair.

Eng­land lost but the show is back on the road, and the World Cup can be dis­cussed again with more ex­cite­ment than trep­i­da­tion.

If talk of “mar­gins” in sport in­duces yawns, no back-to-back games will of­fer a more vivid il­lus­tra­tion of how capri­cious fate can be. Last week, the tele­vi­sion match official ex­cused a no-arms Owen Far­rell tackle late in the game against South Africa and de­nied a Spring­bok penalty that might have won them the game. Far­rell’s lucky break lifted a rock off Jones.

This time, TMO told the ref­eree, Jerome Garces, that Court­ney Lawes had come from an off­side po­si­tion when charg­ing down a TJ Per­e­nara kick, and so Sam Un­der­hill’s snake-hipped try was dis­al­lowed.

A one-point win, a one-point de­feat. Eng­land have lived on the edge in two en­ter­tain­ing Tests.

The edge, though, is a lot nicer than where they were five months ago: in free-fall.

The an­nus hor­ri­bilis is over. The dread­ful Six Na­tions cam­paign, with its fifth-place fin­ish, and se­ries loss in South Africa no longer point to an un­rav­el­ling of the Jones regime. In­stead they can file it away as some in­ex­pli­ca­ble stum­ble, caused, per­haps, by com­pla­cency and loss of im­pe­tus af­ter 18 straight wins. If Jones’s man­age­ment style had run out of road (an­other the­ory much dis­cussed), he has made a fresh start, opened a new chap­ter, in part by in­tro­duc­ing fresh legs and minds af­ter a ridicu­lous run of in­juries.

Take the No7 role, which is, to English rugby, what the No10 is in English foot­ball – a crea­ture in short sup­ply, and a sub­ject of la­men­ta­tion. Where there was a void, Jones can now have high hopes of Tom Curry and Sam Un­der­hill, who was im­mense against New Zealand. In the front row, Ben Moon and Alec Hep­burn have raised their hands. This is not to write off the Vu­nipola broth­ers or any of the crocked es­tab­lished stars.

Yet the un­der­stud­ies dis­play a re­fresh­ing lack of jaun­dice. They have taken South Africa and New Zealand on with remarkable self-be­lief and re­silience, de­spite pos­sess­ing only “400 caps” to New Zealand’s “800” – a point Jones was keen to make.

Eng­land were dom­i­nated by a prof­li­gate Spring­boks side in the first half but re­cov­ered valiantly, with Jones’s tac­ti­cal nous and re­place­ments to the fore. Then, they started briskly against an All Black team that were still in “tea and scones” mode (an­other line last week from Jones). From the mo­ment Brodie Re­tal­lick dropped the kick-off you could see New Zealand were not switched on. But credit the Eng­land play­ers for ex­ploit­ing that Kiwi lax­ity and run­ning up a 15-0 lead within 25 min­utes.

With those Chris Ash­ton and Dy­lan Hart­ley tries, Twick­en­ham was in fer­ment. New Zealand have won the last five matches be­tween th­ese two na­tions and 83 of their 93 Tests un­der Steve Hansen. In the Twick­en­ham fortress, where a sense of en­ti­tle­ment pre­vails, noth­ing un­set­tles the lo­cals like those black shirts go­ing through the gears. But­ter­flies in­vade the stom­ach, and there is al­ways the fear of a bat­ter­ing.

In fact, only one of Eng­land’s five re­cent de­feats by New Zealand was by more than eight points. The Lions showed what can be done if teams stop New Zealand dic­tat­ing the pace and shape of a game. En­cour­ag­ingly for Jones, his play­ers showed both an urge to rip into th­ese fear­some guests in the first 35 min­utes and an im­pres­sive de­gree of tac­ti­cal con­trol. How omi­nous, though, were those fi­nal five min­utes be­fore the break. A 23-phase All Black surge and 10-point grab told you what the sec­ond half would be like. Far­rell’s con­ver­sion, af­ter 25 min­utes, was the last time Eng­land trou­bled the scorer. From there, New Zealand posted 16 unan­swered points. When Jamie Ge­orge re­placed Dy­lan Hart­ley at half-time (Hart­ley’s game-time is shrink­ing by the week), Eng­land’s line-out fell apart and New Zealand emp­tied their bench to re­store the nat­u­ral or­der.

The Lawes off­side was not his only painful mo­ment. Three min­utes later, with an over­lap, he threw a pass be­hind Henry Slade. You could find dozens of sup­posed turn­ing points in any game and roll out what-ifs. A week af­ter Far­rell’s con­tro­ver­sial tackle, how­ever, Un­der­hill’s dis­al­lowed try took on a cos­mic sig­nif­i­cance.

“Some­times the game loves you, some­times the game doesn’t love you. You’ve got to ac­cept that if you stay in the fight long enough the game will love you,” Jones said.

Eng­land, un­der him, are back in the game and back in the fight.

Eng­land have lived on the edge in two Tests, but that is nicer than where they were: in free-fall

Kick­ing on: Ed­die Jones played an ac­tive part in Eng­land’s warm-up and he will have been pleased by what he saw at Twick­en­ham yes­ter­day

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