November 10, 2017 23:08 GMT by theguardian.com

Rejigged England need fast start against Argentina to keep Eddie Jones happy

Rejigged England need fast start against Argentina to keep Eddie Jones happy

The England coach, Eddie Jones, wants his players to ‘own their performance’ against Argentina in the absence of many leading players and with World Cup calculations coming into play

England will wear dark grey for their opening autumn Test against Argentina but a dull, monochrome contest is unlikely. Eddie Jones did not get where he is today by encouraging his teams to tiptoe hesitantly from the changing sheds and a colourful reaction can be guaranteed should his players contrive to lose to opponents whom they have already beaten three times inside the last 12 months.

Even without the injured Billy Vunipola plus the rested Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell, England’s players have been challenged since August to make a serious statement from the outset of the Old Mutual Wealth Series. Jones does not want England to copy New Zealand stylistically but he would not mind cloning a touch of All Black ruthlessness. Good sides do not need three weeks to play themselves in.

It is not a precise comparison but, as Japan proved so memorably against South Africa in the opening game of the 2015 Rugby World Cup in Brighton, the longer Jones has to prepare for a specific game the more interesting the results tend to be. Anyone even mentioning Australia this week has been shoved instantly back in their box, microphone askew. The Pumas are the only current target, not least because they will be sharing England’s pool in Japan in 2019.

The corresponding fixture last year did not pan out as planned, the game barely five minutes old when Elliot Daly became the first England back to be given a red card at Twickenham. Vunipola also departed prematurely with a knee injury and Dan Cole’s sin-binning reduced the home side to only 13 men at one stage. They won 27-14 but ultimately it was more an exercise in crisis management than crisp perfection.

Two high-scoring summer Tests in Argentina subsequently saw England triumphant in the absence of their Lions players, adding a further layer of expectancy to this latest reunion with the Pumas. Jones is fully respectful of Argentina’s own pent-up motivation but does not have infinite time in which to tinker before the gravitational pull of 2019 intensifies.

Which is why, in every sense, he is demanding a fast start now. England will seek to play at high tempo but with a healthy element of calculation and control as well. The management will want to see, specifically, whether George Ford, Henry Slade and Jonathan Joseph can forge a proactive midfield alliance, whether Sam Underhill is as effective a breakdown operator at this level as many anticipate and whether there is enough star quality sprinkled across the starting XV to cover the absence of probably the team’s three best players.

It is the absence of Farrell, in particular, which will deprive England of their main safety blanket. Ford went well in Argentina but he has not always found goal-kicking simple at Twickenham; while he is earmarked to assume the captaincy when Dylan Hartley goes off, there will be major competition for his starting place against the Wallabies if Slade has a stormer and a frustrated Farrell is cleared to return.

Jones is also adamant, with Farrell sitting in the stands, that more of his players need to step up and take “ownership” of the team’s performance, rather than him routinely calling the shots. “The players on the field own the responsibility,” stressed the Australian. “It’s not Owen who owns the responsibility. I’ve made that quite clear.”

Hartley has been preaching a similar message of self-improvement, conscious other sides are beginning to view England differently. “We’re not the surprise any more. We expect to give people a good hard game and I think people know that. The belief is now 100% there that we can be better, that we can get to No1 [in the world] and we can win a World Cup. If you don’t have these kind of goals, these dreams, and you don’t talk about these things, I don’t think you’ve got any chance of achieving them.”

The recent series of training camps in Teddington, Oxford, Portugal and Bagshot have reinforced the same point but the Pumas, even in the absence of some influential overseas-based players, remain a better team than eight defeats in nine Tests this year might suggest. The 24-year-old flanker Pablo Matera and left winger Emiliano Boffelli, only 22, will need watching, as will their all-action captain Agustín Creevy, Hartley’s opposite number. England, nevertheless, will still expect to pull away in the second half by at least 10 points unless Jones’s strict pre-match instructions fade to grey in the wash.

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