November 10, 2017 22:53 GMT by dailymail.co.uk

England ready to unleash the big guns at Twickenham

England ready to unleash the big guns at Twickenham

They have spent three months preparing for this game, so England have no excuses. It should be a no-contest, a home banker. An emphatic victory must be the reasonable expectation.

They have spent three months preparing for this game, so England have no excuses. It should be a no-contest, a home banker. An emphatic victory must be the reasonable expectation.

Five months ago, England won two Tests in Argentina, with only a handful of leading lights surrounded by second- or third-choice players. Despite injuries, a suspension and the decision to rest two key Lions, head coach Eddie Jones can unleash a far more formidable line-up at Twickenham after a long and meticulous build-up which began in August.

If it is to be believed that the sole focus has been on this autumn opener, then England should be ready to deliver the performance of their lives. All that preparation means the English rugby public have every right to demand the hosts hit the ground running in the first instalment of a three-match November campaign.

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

A week ago in the same arena, a scratch Barbarians side who had done a modicum of training amid trips to the pub and fancy-dress parties gave the All Blacks an almighty fright. That may not have been a full-blooded Test clash, but it showed that team cohesion need not be an elusive objective that takes years to achieve.

On October 5, 2019, England will face Argentina in Tokyo in the penultimate match of their World Cup pool. By then, they will expect to have taken giant strides towards closing the gap on New Zealand and to have established themselves as favourites for the global prize. Phase two of that crusade starts today.

The evolutionary process must proceed with haste now. During the pre-series camp in Portugal last week, Jones sought to demonstrate to his players that they are up against the clock, by laying out 12 balls on a training pitch to signify their year’s work.

Twelve games together, then they will have just one year until the showpiece tournament. Twelve games to give substance to their mantra about the quest for constant improvement.

Barring a seismic shock, this will be England’s fourth win against the Pumas in 12 months, which will provide a psychological advantage for when the nations collide in Japan. 

But as captain Dylan Hartley has conceded, victory is not enough. There are many other boxes to tick. The Jones era has brought some unprecedented successes and a rise from eighth in the rankings to second but the All Blacks remain the pre-eminent force. 

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 lead the chasing pack, with Ireland on their tail, although Australia are re-emerging.

Hence, with the Kiwis not due to play England until next year, there is a lack of edge about this autumn campaign. A clean sweep is vital.

There is ample scope for English improvement. Jones has forged an aggressive, resilient side capable of putting opponents under fierce pressure and taking their chances but the head coach knows where the limitations lie.

Monday’s joint training session with Wales was primarily a means of trying to enhance the England scrum, which has been effective but not dominant. Today provides a useful fixture for assessing where the pack stands — although the Pumas are not quite the fearsome beasts of old in their set-piece work — amid a concerted bid to expand their repertoire.

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

At least the Pumas now have backs capable of stretching and troubling the English defence, to give an indication of whether it will function better than it did in Argentina. Two rollercoaster wins there were achieved despite the leaking of too many points for Jones’ comfort.

In that regard, Sam Underhill is a potentially influential figure, even though this will be his first home Test. The Bath flanker is a destructive force in the defensive line and could also make his presence felt as a predatory breakdown asset. The rookie openside will be kept busy today, as the South Americans are not short of ball-carriers with clout. Agustin Creevy and Pablo Matera will take some stopping. Creevy is also a prolific poacher at rucks.

Ideally, England want to secure enough set-piece stability and possession that they spend more time attacking than manning the barricades.

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

The selection of Henry Slade at inside centre is another example of Jones and his assistants opting for a dual-playmaker axis, but that model may come under threat when Ben Te’o and Manu Tuilagi return to fitness. For now, Slade theoretically has the credentials to complement George Ford. Those two will be charged with igniting a high-tempo off-loading game, unless rain forces England to narrow their approach.

Slade can demonstrate that there is depth in what has often been a problem area — and the same can be said for Harry Williams, when the Exeter prop is deployed from the bench. England need tighthead challengers to Dan Cole so the Chief’s impact will be closely scrutinised.

Among a multitude of sub-plots today, veterans such as Mike Brown, Chris Robshaw and Hartley himself will be hell-bent on proving they belong in phase two of Jones’ World Cup masterplan.

There is selection experimentation in store over the coming weeks, so Twickenham should witness a home team driven by the efforts of players operating on a knife-edge.

The crowd should also see a comfortable win, to launch an autumn clean-sweep.

 

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