Rivals will fear England backs but not the pack

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: Going into Saturday's match, I’m really excited by the England backs but the starting forwards will not be giving visiting teams sleepless nights.

Going into Saturday's match, I’m really excited by the England backs but the starting forwards will not be giving visiting teams sleepless nights.

I love the look of a back division with Henry Slade at 12, the gas and running skills of Jonathan Joseph and the all-round excellence of Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson on the wings, although both could play full back or indeed outside centre.

It’s the balance and mix I relish, and that backline also throws down the gauntlet to Mike Brown at full back. Brown at his very best belongs in that back-line, but is he at his very best and can he maintain that form for another two years? All the spotlight is on Slade but this is a massive match for Brown.

England head coach Eddie Jones can unleash a formidable line-up at Twickenham

England head coach Eddie Jones can unleash a formidable line-up at Twickenham

As an opposition coach I would look at that England back line — and sparky replacements like Danny Care, Semesa Rokoduguni and Alex Lozowski — and be a little fearful. My conclusion would be simple: they need to be stopped at source. 

Argentina, who have a huge pack, need to win the forward battle and that is where England are beginning to worry me a little.

It’s a decent England pack against most opposition, but as a unit they are not world-beaters. It’s not developing as quickly or as well as I had hoped.

With the exception of Sam Underhill for Tom Wood it’s the same pack that started against Australia last autumn and I had expected England to have moved on a little.

England captain Dylan Hartley knows the players are under pressure to make a statement

England captain Dylan Hartley knows the players are under pressure to make a statement

England seem to be getting hung up with this ridiculous term ‘finishers’. If I was opposing Jones he would certainly be getting some ‘feedback’ from me over this subject.

I am beginning to think that perhaps Eddie has devised it to disguise the fact that not many England forwards are fit enough to play 80 minutes, which is the achilles heel of modern-day professional rugby. I note his strong comments the other day that England need to be 20 per cent fitter, which is very true — and possibly an underestimate.

The absolute priority up front is to find out if Ellis Genge and Harry Williams are good enough to start for England — forget the finishing part of the equation. And although we know Jamie George is quality, he is still very inexperienced in England terms.

I’m glad Eddie has resisted the temptation to move either Courtney Lawes or Maro Itoje back to six, although he is giving the latter a rest anyway.

Bath flanker Sam Underhill is a potentially influential figure in his first home Test

Bath flanker Sam Underhill is a potentially influential figure in his first home Test

It’s a move that rarely works but in an England back row already lacking genuine pace, it would be risky at the highest level. At No 8 Nathan Hughes has yet to convince me totally.

He has impressive moments and spells but some of the speed seems to have gone out of his game since he started powering through defences when he first joined Wasps. Perhaps defences have just worked him out a bit.

The backrow is full of uncertainty too. Is Underhill the real deal and does his style suit England? And can Chris Robshaw maintain his standards and contribute fully to an England team who must up their tempo still further?

Argentina will get themselves up for this game and provide a real test but I am perplexed with their policy of selecting from home-based players, which means just the Super Rugby franchise the Jaguares. They have begun to look stale and lack that excitement which the step up from club or provincial rugby to Test rugby should always entail.

I will be sharing pundit duties today with Marcelo Bosch, who should still be their midfield gel.

Henry Slade and George Ford will be charged with igniting a high-tempo off-loading game

Henry Slade and George Ford will be charged with igniting a high-tempo off-loading game

Not to tap into his knowledge and experience, both on and off the pitch, is just crazy and has left the Argentina side in reverse gear.

His Saracens colleague Juan Figallo could still be propping up their ailing scrum, Juan Imhoff should be their go-to man in the backs and the powerful Facundo Isa is normally their totem pole up front. All are currently disqualified because they play in Britain or France which makes no sense, especially given their record since introducing this rule.

Wales

Wales have a golden opportunity to improve their abysmal recent record against Australia at the Millennium Stadium today.

The Wallabies will be vulnerable — this will be their 12th Test on five continents since June — and I have no doubt that, subconsciously, the travel-weary players will be saving their last big effort of the year for the England match next week. They won’t be under-estimating Wales but Michael Cheika and his team know that, regardless of their other results on tour, if they beat England they will go home in credit and can head for the beach in a content state of mind.

Ireland

I’m still trying to decipher Allister Coetzee’s comment earlier this week that Ireland are the ‘All Blacks of Europe’. In one way the South Africa coach is wrong — Ireland are not as consistent and can be prone to off days. Yet he does have a point.

Ireland dismissed the challenge of England in March, possess world-class half-backs in Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton and a host of players who are comfortable with ball in hand. A couple of Twitter jokers made me smile by also venturing they live offside too! Ireland are formidable but they will need to be on top of their game. South Africa have got a little wind in their sails after a couple of hard years and will be hungry.

Scotland

I am a huge fan of Gregor Townsend who was appointed coach in the summer and now takes charge of his first home game against Samoa.

At Glasgow, Townsend encouraged his players to play a quick tempo, attacking brand of rugby and is working with many of the same players again — which will be a big advantage.

He turned down a role with the Lions to take Scotland on their summer tour and experienced the highs and lows of being an international coach.

They beat Australia in Sydney one week and lost to Fiji in Suva seven days later. There will be ups and downs, but under Townsend, Scotland will be an exciting team to watch and I wish him well.