Wednesday 19 December 2018

Questions for Jones as rusty England struggle past Pumas

England 21 Argentina 8

England's Alex Lozowski is taken down. Photo: Getty Images
England's Alex Lozowski is taken down. Photo: Getty Images

Paul Rees

England played in black and it was the colour of their mood despite an 11th consecutive victory at Twickenham and their third over Argentina - their World Cup opponents in 2019 - in five months.

England had not played together as a full squad since the end of the Six Nations in March and it took them until the second half to shake off their coat of rust. Argentina had no such excuse one month after the end of their Rugby Championship campaign and, while they slowed down England's ball initially, they were predictable in possession and prone to basic mistakes.

England's Alex Lozowski makes a surging run. Photo: Getty Images
England's Alex Lozowski makes a surging run. Photo: Getty Images

George Ford exchanged penalties with Emiliano Boffelli in the opening nine minutes before creating the first opportunity of the game. Chris Robshaw, enjoying a freer role with his wing-forward colleague Sam Underhill mowing down runners around the fringes, drew the defence in midfield and Ford to loop around him and pass to Mike Brown. The full-back had Anthony Watson outside him with a 40-metre run to the line but delayed his pass and the moment was wasted.

Brown has held on to the 15 jersey through Eddie Jones's reign, but as the head coach ponders his midfield options and whether to add some ballast, he has yet to assess his playmaking options at full-back.

He had the opportunity after 21 minutes when Brown left the field concussed after being tackled in the air by Joaquín Tuculet and landing on his head. The Argentinian was sent to the sin-bin after referee Marius van der Westhuizen reviewed the incident: although Tuculet was challenging for the ball in the air, the official ruled, rather harshly, that he did not have a realistic chance of catching it.

Brown was deemed unfit to return to the field immediately. Jones had the choice of moving Elliot Daly or Watson to full-back with Semesa Rokoduguni covering the wing from the bench. He opted for Watson but in wet conditions England struggled to generate momentum: Henry Slade at inside-centre touched the ball twice in the opening 20 minutes.

Argentina's Pablo Matera wins a lineout over England's Chris Robshaw. Photo: Getty Images
Argentina's Pablo Matera wins a lineout over England's Chris Robshaw. Photo: Getty Images

Tuculet had barely sat down when England, who were by then 6-3 ahead through Ford's second penalty, scored the opening try. Nathan Hughes, more assured than a year ago when he made his international breakthrough, took a move into a higher gear with a pass out of the back of his hand and finished it off when he clasped Ford's long pass to the right wing with one hand and made light of Boffelli's safety-first challenge to touch down in the corner.

It did not lift a drab afternoon. Ford's third penalty gave England a 14-3 interval lead and but for Argentina's wastefulness from the tee - Juan Martín Hernández, Boffelli and Nicolás Sánchez missed four penalties between them either side of the interval - the hosts would have had a finish laced with some tension.

They confirmed victory with 15 minutes to go after Alex Lozowski, a replacement for Jonathan Joseph in a move that saw Slade move to 13, escaped Matías Alemanno's challenge on a 30-metre run into Argentina's 22 where, for once, quick ball was for once secured. Slade's long pass, ruled to be straight rather than forward, gave Rokoduguni a run to the line.

Underhill was involved in the build-up to the try, securing his first touch of the ball after 65 minutes. He had by then made 15 tackles, part of a team in which players have clearly defined roles. Mako Vunipola, Hughes and Courtney Lawes were England's carriers but they were at least one short overall and Jones was left with a number of questions in victory.

Argentina's Juan Martin Hernandez boots the ball forward. Photo: Getty Images
Argentina's Juan Martin Hernandez boots the ball forward. Photo: Getty Images

Argentina finished the scoring when Sánchez finished off a multi-phase move, but with Hernández in decline they lack a focal point, a flock without a shepherd.

Scorers - England: Hughes, Rokoduguni try each; Ford con, 3 pens. Argentina: Sanchez try, Boffelli pen.

England: Brown (Rokoduguni 21); Watson, Joseph (Lozowski 61), Slade, Daly; Ford, B Youngs (Care 61); M Vunipola (Genge 67), Hartley (capt; George 58), Cole (Williams 67), Lawes, Kruis (Launchbury 56), Robshaw, Underhill, Hughes (Simmonds 71).

Argentina: Tuculet; Moyano, Moroni, Iglesias, Boffelli; Hernandez (Sanchez 63), Landajo (Bertrand 67); Botta (Noguera 58), Creevy (capt; Montoya 67), Chaparro (Pieretto 58), Alemanno, Lavanini (Senatore 67), Kramer, Matera, Lezana (Macome 56).

England head coach Eddie Jones. Photo: Getty Images
England head coach Eddie Jones. Photo: Getty Images

Referee: M van der Westhuizen

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