Monday, 13 November 2017

Far from the Fireworks: England v Argentina

by Tom Cracknell

Eddie Jones 
As both teams emerged from the Twickenham tunnel fireworks signalled the start of England’s Autumn internationals and the beginning of a highly anticipated match between, the favourites, England and, the underdogs, Los Pumas.

Last Thursday, the highly anticipated starting XV announcement made several changes to the establishing face of England rugby with two of the star performers, Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje being left out the match day 23. Eddie Jones making these changes based on his own “gut feeling” and firmly showing us and the players he is willing to make changes and no one’s place is guaranteed. This followed Jones’ earlier decision to leave out open side flanker James Haskell from the training squad stating that “At the moment he is just not playing well enough but the door’s not shut on him”. However, these notable absences gave others an enormous opportunity to cement a place on Eddie Jones’ radar. Most importantly the inclusion of Sam Underhill, Ellis Genge, Harry Williams, Sam Simmonds (replacement for the injured Tom Curry) and Alex Lozowski to the match day 23.

A brisk November afternoon and 81,623 fans greeted the players on their entrance to the pitch. England’s public intentions to topple the mighty All Blacks looming over them and further increased their pressure to perform, however the disjointed and fractured game which followed hardly displayed any of the fireworks and execution needed and served merely as a harsh reminder how far they must still go before managing to eclipse the number one, the All Backs. By half time the scores were England 14-3 Argentina. The first half saw a distinctly average performance from England although with a sour taste of tries being missed, meanwhile Argentina’s goal-kicking and overall discipline was ringing in their ears. Reflection on the half time statistics showed no distinct advantage to either team, a fair reflection neither team reaching their marks, although ‘gainline successes’ weighed in England’s favour (32 to 18). The second half followed with moments of anger and frustration from the players and Eddie Jones, being caught expressing these feeling on camera, and the occasional moment of brilliance for example Hernandez’ pass at 64 minutes. The final passage of play brought to an end by a knock on by Launchbury marked the conclusion to a dominance lacking performance by England who were far from up to full speed. The second half also saw a slightly improved end to Argentina’s game with one long attack allowing them to finally overcome the England defence who otherwise were not threatened. However, the win was masked by a few grimaces and disappointed faces with a mixed bag of emotions going into next week’s class with Australia.

Many have said following this display; it was one of England’s worst performances under Jones’ England team and was lacking intelligence and energy. Jones’ made his disappointment clear to see in the second half. It is fair to say on the whole England must quickly regroup for their test with Australia as the bounce from a tough win over a impressive wales team, with the next test set to be a much tougher challenge. The message was not all bad with a more positive not being brought by the performances of No 8 Nathen Hughes, the silky hand of prop Mako Vunipola and the occasional injection of speed and skill of Anthony Watson, still riding a wave of Lions’ confidence. Furthermore, Sam Underhill showed real strength in defence and began to work his way into the England 6 shirt however his performance being let down by a couple of conceded penalties and a lacking attacking performance.

There was a lack of clear-cut rugby and execution throughout the game and Alex Lozowski being one of the few men able to grab hold of the game showing a piece of individual class in an arching break of the Argentinian line. A forgettable performance of a poor Argentina and a rusty England only increases the pressure going in to next weekend against the wallabies and makes England’s end goal of edging out the reigning New Zealand side ever distant and challenge.

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