EDDIE JONES has given his unbeaten England players three challenges they must rise to if they are to defeat Argentina tomorrow, with the need for a suffocating defence the most serious concern for a team bidding to become No1 in the sport.
That is the ranking Jones has told his players they can achieve but three sloppy tries conceded in the 58-15 win over Fiji, plus the banning of lock Joe Launchbury, has forced the head coach into four changes as they prepare to play a team who showed flashes of brilliance during this year’s Rugby Championship. For 50 minutes, the Pumas had New Zealand chasing shadows before the South Americans ran out of energy.
Faced with the most dangerous side to arrive so far at Twickenham during this Old Mutual Wealth Series, Jones has demanded an end to the individual and team errors that have taken the gloss off the wins against South Africa and Fiji.
As a result, Jones has revealed three imperatives for tomorrow and the most demanding revolves around defence. Paul Gustard, England’s defence coach, has asked his players to incorporate new ideas and it takes time to establish the kind of Wolfpack defence he used so well at Saracens. The Sarries players instinctively know what is required but at Test level the job is so much harder, with players coming from different Premiership teams where they operate subtle variations.
Gustard and Jones want to see a significant improvement from the first two autumn Tests during which England conceded what they considered “soft” tries at this level, against South Africa and Fiji.
Defence is all about communication, commitment and organisation; the ability to make a tackle and bounce straight back up into the defensive line and repeat that as often as necessary to avert the danger. It is tiring both physically and mentally but if any player shirks his responsibility then the whole line is compromised.
Another point emphasised by Jones is that he believes the match will be a “test of England’s manhood”, as the tourists bring their intensely physical forward play to the party.
The Pumas will try to use the scrum to soften up England both physically and mentally before driving the ball around the edges of the breakdown to fracture the defence. They will allow their dangerous backs, marshalled with skill by fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez, to show how rounded their game has become. This is due to the exposure to Super Rugby as well as participation in the Rugby Championship which lacks the suffocating atmosphere of the Northern Hemisphere game.
Thirdly, Jones has ordered his men to be clinically “opportunistic” to exploit what he considers to be a Pumas defence that “doesn’t work at times”. Those times usually come in the final quarter when their fitness is exposed and gaps appear. England must play at a relentlessly high pace to drag the big Pumas forwards all over the pitch. However, there is a fine line between helter-skelter rugby and a co-ordinated series of high-octane raids.
Jones is confident if his forwards deliver quick ball, it will be put to telling use by George Ford. The fly-half has grown into the role Jones has earmarked for him and it is one that requires a high level of skill, an ability to scan for mis-matches wider out, cool decision making and bravery.
Ford needs to be brave because he is being asked to take the ball flat and in the faces of the defence, cutting down their ability to react when the No10 initiates his chosen attacking plan.
However, if England are to move from second place in the rankings to usurp the All Blacks at the top of the game, they have to become the most feared defensive team in rugby and tomorrow’s match needs to be an example of how good they can become.
England’s use of a drone to film train-ing has helped the players see just how their alignment can be improved. Against Fiji, they became too narrow and allowed the spacing between the players to become too small, which meant a longer pass took two or three players out of the equation.
Argentina will have spotted this weakness and unless the training ground improvement is replicated on the pitch, England will be in real trouble.
England have recalled Mike Brown to add defensive cover from full-back and installed Jonny May and his world-class sprinting pace on the wing to deliver the tries to break opposition resistance. George Kruis, back after ankle surgery, and Tom Wood have come into the pack to help ensure the quick ball that will keep Jones on course to finish 2016 as head coach of an unbeaten England.