Authors: Rio Sports
One might have thought a pat on the back would be in order. England, without 30 of their best players, have just won a series in Argentina for only the second time, purveying a brand of wit and bravery of which any one of the absent 30 might be proud. And Eddie Jones, the guru they are all so eager to please, wonders whether they want it enough.
“England players need to be hungrier,” he said in the bowels of the Estadio Brigadier General Estanislao López, whose field they had just conquered, surrounded by high fences, razor wire and an actual moat, the locals baying for their blood beyond. “They find it too easy. They play in the under-20s, they become Junior World Cup champions, they get a contract straight away. That doesn’t happen in any other country. I think the younger players are not hungry enough.”
But even Jones, perennially dissatisfied though he may be, can appreciate that experiences such as this, winning a second Test almost as wild and dynamic as the first, may be of benefit in changing that culture. “That’s what I’m hoping. I don’t know if it’s going to happen. They have changed with us but it is not about when they are with us. It is when they are by themselves.”
The 35-25 win on Saturday represents a mere step on the road to Jones’s singular objective, the 2019 World Cup but it is the second of two great strides taken on this tour. Eleven new caps have been blooded and each victory, delivered under the ferocious pressure applied by a Pumas team of pace and power, has featured the flexibility of problem-solving that Jones prizes so highly.
“We haven’t played great rugby but we have played smart rugby,” he said. “We have been able to change our game on the run and come up with different ways of winning. An England side does not tend to win a game like this 35-25 but we have been able to score 73 points [across the two Tests] against a side who were semi-finalists at the last World Cup.”
Four tries in each Test is a fine return indeed, although the seven conceded will no doubt eat away at Jones as he heads to New Zealand to watch the Lions and then throughout the long months before England play again, in November. Many of the youngsters and debutants who have served him so well will have to be excluded from the 45-man Elite Player Squad he announces in August for the autumn internationals, having to content themselves with those lonely hours in front of the mirror asking themselves how hungry they are.
Promising as their contributions have been, it was the sprinkling of senior players available who guided England through. George Ford followed up his 23-point haul from the first Test, in San Juan, with 15 here, including the 74th‑minute drop goal, after Will Collier had scored their fourth try, that extended England’s lead to 10, the first time in the series that either side had managed to pull away from the other by more than a score.
Chris Robshaw returned from injury for the second Test and was an infuriating obstacle to Argentina’s best efforts. Joe Launchbury, too, remained an unshakable point of reference but it was his young partner, Charlie Ewels, who impressed Jones as much as anyone. He started England’s try-scoring in only the fifth minute.
Argentina struck back almost immediately through Joaquín Tuculet. Four further times England managed to take the lead and three further Argentina replied in kind. Mike Brown was another senior player who thrived, setting up tries number two and three, finished in some style by Piers Francis and Danny Care.
Francis looked good in his first start, having impressed off the bench the week before. His support play for the second was of the highest order and try established England’s 18-13 half-time lead. Unfortunately his chip in the second half ricocheted off the legs of Pablo Matera to set up Argentina’s second. But their third, by Emiliano Boffelli, was a fabulous exposition of movement and power. Argentina have much to work on in the composure department, but the core elements of pace, power and intuition will make them formidable opponents in England’s pool at the World Cup.
Jones knows this only too well. “Our challenge is to build a bullet-proof team. At the World Cup you can get a team that on one day can be absolutely red hot. Every offload sticks; the 50-50 decisions go their way. You have got to be good enough to beat those teams, and we’re not there at the moment. We’re too close to Argentina. At the World Cup we need a gap.”
It can safely be said he will not rest until he has one.
Five players who advanced their cause
Harry Williams, Tighthead
Has trodden the unconventional path so valued by Jones, who name‑checked him repeatedly on tour. A few uncomfortable moments at scrum but survived.
Charlie Ewels, Lock
Probably the most successful of the youngsters, not that you would know he was one. Big, tough and intelligent, he led the lineouts.
Tom Curry Flanker
Started the first Test despite his mere 18 years of age. Fearless and physical, he also flashed impressive handling skills.
Piers Francis, Fly-half
Another who has seen the world and endured rejection to catch Jones’s eye. Looks a complete midfielder who reads the game beautifully.
Denny Solomona, Wing
Moot point whether he came out in credit, but a match‑winning try in San Juan will live in memory, longer than his earlier errors.