It was important to give some of the front line players a rest against Japan but I’m not sure how many of their replacements pushed their case for a start in what is a massive clash with Australia on Saturday.
Few people saw that performance against New Zealand coming and now England must prove they can back it up. Not just by beating the Wallabies, but by beating them in style with another performance that really shouts that they have turned the corner and are genuine World Cup contenders.
One match alone does not do that so it’s imperative they go into the Six Nations having backed that game up with another display that says ‘Yes we are ready’.
The biggest obstacles seem to have been mental with this team over the last couple of years but there are signs that they are toughening up, making correct decisions under pressure and executing clinically.
The challenge now is be consistent by raising the levels of intensity to another level to consistently compete with the Southern Hemisphere. Putting the Wallabies to the sword will be a huge statement of intent and even if they come second in the Six Nations to a Grand Slam, they will have raised the level of optimism. That simply has to happen for England to be considered proper World Cup contenders.
They raised the bar so high against New Zealand that there is a chance they will drop off as they won’t feel they need such a fine performance to defeat Australia – and you could see that intensity was not there in the first half against Japan yesterday.
Traditionally England have always had to deal with other nations not liking them. New Zealand’s challenge goes deeper with the whole of world rugby trying to shoot them down, yet they continue to produce consistently excellent performances. They have a winning mentality and know the key to victory is making fewer basic errors than your opponents.
And let’s not forget that last week’s conditions were horrendous. Constant rain, swirling winds and very cold – I shook hands with a few players after the game and their hands were like blocks of ice.
Last week England made fewer errors and lost the ball in a turnover only 12 times to New Zealand’s 20. And their penalty count was only seven all game whereas it has been double figures of late. But while seven is a low number, the All Blacks gave away only four all match.
They also dominated territory and possession in excess of 60:40. Like Ireland under Joe Schmidt, Leinster, Saracens and Exeter, they all make very few errors and rarely give the ball away cheaply in turnovers. They play keep-ball and build momentum with wave after wave of pressure until cracks appear and opponents buckle.
It’s about risk taking and playing smart rugby. Why, for instance, did Maro Itoje feel it necessary to get sin-binned against South Africa?
It was an unnecessary yellow and could have had a bigger impact on the game. It’s the same when players are throwing big passes – why take the risk? The best teams don’t. The best teams have the mental application to transfer what they do on the training pitch to match day and implement it.
George Ford had a fine game for England against Japan yesterday but it won’t change Eddie Jones’ mind that Owen Farrell is now his No.1 fly-half.
That display against New Zealand from the entire team has made it very difficult to drop any of them. When everyone is fit Eddie will have more choices to make. The Vunipola brothers come straight in, a firing Manu Tuilagi, below, would be there also, with Joe Launchbury in the mix. Anthony Watson, for me, should be England’s full-back for the World Cup. Like Owen Farrell, Watson just keeps getting better and better and, when fully fit, is pretty much undroppable. He’s decent under the ball, spots space and is lethal on the counter.
Elliot Daly has not looked as comfortable at 15 as he has on the wing and it’s been a huge surprise to seem him struggle under the high ball.
With few options at 15 with Watson injured and Mike Brown and Alex Goode both unfancied, it’s a shame Daly wasn’t given a runout yesterday in the 13 shirt against Japan. Henry Slade is finding consistency at outside-centre, but I would like to see Daly given a run there.
Until Watson is fit Daly will stay at full-back, but if he doesn’t have a stonking game against Australia Eddie must end the experiment.
Daly, in my opinion, is the most skilful back in Northern Hemisphere rugby but we’ve not seen him at his absolute best at 15. He has struggled with his timing to jump for the high ball and while he isn’t the biggest of guys, Leigh Halfpenny is smaller and he has no issues under the high ball. It’s a very dangerous role to master and Daly looks to have found the transition somewhat challenging.
Unless he plays an absolute blinder against the Wallabies, Eddie should move him because it’s not building Daly’s confidence. We’ve seen him cut in when he should have backed himself on the outside, kick balls away he could have run and not give the scoring pass by choosing the wrong option. He’s not quite backing himself like he was and that’s a shame.
Eddie has a referral point now of what the preparation was like for the All Blacks match and it will be something he will measure against in the build up to next year. If any player falls below that level they will be vulnerable.
What we have seen this autumn is that England really do have a squad of players who can fill in and cover for one another should injury hit. For instance, Ben Curry was very good against South Africa but Sam Underhill even better against New Zealand, while Ben Te’o is providing go-forward, and if he falters Manu is there.
Now they need to go out and show how good they are against Australia.
Tagged Jeremy Guscott
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