Friday 23 August 2019

Muddling win leaves Jones wanting more

England 48 Samoa 14

England's Henry Slade scores a try Photo: Reuters
England's Henry Slade scores a try Photo: Reuters

Daniel Schofield

Year two of Eddie Jones's reign finished yesterday with a victory against Samoa that was satisfactory rather than sensational. The ledger now reads 23 Tests, 22 wins. The 13-9 defeat by Ireland is the sole blemish on an otherwise flawless record.

No one, least of all Jones, is pretending that England are the finished article. Despite a 34-point victory achieved with a raft of changes, it was for the most part a flat performance, punctuated with a few periods where England's handling clicked and Samoa's defence flagged.

Elliot Daly of England crosses for the sixth try Photo: Getty
Elliot Daly of England crosses for the sixth try Photo: Getty

Jones described it as "muddling", as apt a description as any. Several comparisons have been drawn between Jones and Jose Mourinho, especially in terms of man and media management. Each enjoys picking fights with enemies, real or imagined, and is prone to lighting fires to distract attention from unwanted lines of inquiry.

Their teams are ruthless and efficient and command respect but not love.

England are to New Zealand what Mourinho's Manchester United are to Pep Guardiola's Manchester City.

Here, England effectively killed the contest inside nine minutes, profiting from two mistakes by Samoa. First, the Pacific Islanders failed to station a guard at a ruck a few feet from the try-line. Maro Itoje accepted the invitation to waltz through and offload to Mike Brown for the opening score.

Semesa Rokoduguni of England celebrates scoring his side's seventh try Photo: Getty
Semesa Rokoduguni of England celebrates scoring his side's seventh try Photo: Getty

Try No 2 was even more painful from a Samoan perspective. Tim Nanai-Williams, anticipating a thumping from Elliot Daly, spilled a George Ford bomb, allowing Brown to turn provider for Alex Lozowski to score in the corner.

After that, it was all a bit underwhelming. There were a few moments of excitement. Daly displayed the type of footwork you associate with a South Sea Islander, stepping past five defenders for his second try. Jonny May and Lozowski also carried a frisson of electricity when in possession.

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Sam Simmonds, the No8, was highly involved in his first start, making 95 metres off a game-high 17 carries. Fly-half George Ford again showed he can steer the ship in the absence of Owen Farrell, again utilised as water carrier.

Awkwardly for Jones, hooker Jamie George, in his first start after a record 19 appearances off the bench, was also among England's better performers. He showed why he, rather than Dylan Hartley, was selected as the Lions starter, running a perfect line-out and playing prominent roles in Lozowski's and Charlie Ewels's tries. Jones has made it clear that providing Hartley is capable of walking, he will walk into the team every time. The captaincy trumps capability.

Samoa were gallant throughout. Flanker TJ Ioane, who made 12 carries and 20 tackles, was probably the best player on the pitch and at the heart of resistance when England were kept at bay between the 29th and 61st minutes.

It will concern Jones that the reconfigured loose forward combination consistently failed to secure possession at the breakdown in this period.

For 2018, on paper, England are close to perfection. On the pitch there is still considerable work to do.

Scorers - England: Brown, Lozowski, Ewels, Daly (2), Slade, Rokoduguni try each; Ford con, 5 pens; Samoa: Faasalele, Vui try each, Nanai-Williams 2 cons.
England: Brown; May (Rokoduguni 46), Slade, Lozowski (Francis 56), Daly; Ford, Care (Youngs 56); Genge (Marler 45), George (Hartley 63), Cole (Williams 56), Launchbury (Lawes 30), Ewels (Isiekwe 63), Itoje, Robshaw, Simmonds.
Samoa: Tuala; Perez, Fonotia, Leiua (Lee-Lo 67), Lemi (Taulagi 73); Nanai-Williams, Polataivao (Maiavaio 73); Jordan Lay (James Lay 57), Matu'u (Leiataua 30), Brighouse (Sasagi 46), Tyrell (Lemalu 61), Vui, Fa'asalele, Ioane, Lam (Treviranus 67).
Referee: A Brace (Ire)

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