England got the job done against Tonga and the USA… but now the serious stuff begins
- England breezed past Tonga and USA but know much tougher tests await
- Argentina and France will ask much sterner questions of Eddie Jones’s side
- Jones has very few selection issues which bodes well for upcoming games
England were very good as they dismissed a physical USA side, but the reality is the World Cup proper starts next week. It is all about Argentina and then France as the opposition becomes ever tougher.
That’s no disrespect to Tonga or the US Eagles, who gave it their all, but both tier-two nations were always going to come up short no matter what team England put out.
These opening two games have been all about securing a maximum 10 points, avoiding injuries, bedding down a few combinations, ensuring as many players as possible get game time and avoiding controversy.
England boss Eddie Jones will be pleased with his side’s performances against Tonga and USA
England breezed through both games but know that much tougher tests await next week
Job done — well, almost.
There could be a bit of strife over that Piers Francis high tackle straight from the kick-off, although Eddie Jones dealt with that prospect superbly straight after the game by saying England will accept whatever the authorities decide.
Having said that, I am sure Francis will be cited and, with the precedent having been set, he will get a three-match ban.
It’s a bit unsatisfactory. The ugly assault on Owen Farrell by John Quill late in the second half is why we have red cards and the deliberate, targeted high shots by the Samoans Ray Ley Lo and Motu Matu’u against Russia are why we dismiss the disgraced players from the field of play and ban them.
Owen Farrell was the victim of the type of ugly assault the game must try and eradicate
They are the deliberate, callous, illegal challenges that the game must eradicate and must always be punished with an automatic red and a ban so they see the error of their ways. In all three instances you could see how players on the pitch immediately reacted. The players always know.
And this is the point I have been trying to make about the Reece Hodge incident last week and subsequent three-match ban which seems to have excited social media.
Hodge was faced with an almost impossible tackle to make, with everything happening at great speed in a confined space against a big player charging hard and low — a moving target who might step, swerve or just plough straight on.
Joe Cokanasiga showcased his incredible ball in hand ability again against the USA
Somehow he did actually manage to wrap his right arm in the tackle — he moved slightly to the right to do this but the result was a huge collision and unfortunately the concussion of Percili Yato. But there was no reaction whatsoever by the players. It was not a challenge that deserves a three-match ban. I would have settled for a yellow card although the official and TMO on the day were happy with it.
However World Rugby, by making an example of Hodge, have now made it difficult not to punish any remotely similar incident. They have set the bar unrealistically high.
If you are being really picky I would say the Francis challenge was worse than Hodge’s because he was lining up a stationary target from some way out and had the option of going lower or moving to one side to execute a side tackle in which he could wrap his arms.
Joe Marler should retain his place ahead of Mako Vunipola with the latter coming off the bench
Francis was the aggressor on a player in a stationary situation receiving the ball but even then there is no way that tackle is worthy of a three-match ban… which is what I fear he will get. It’s a mess and it’s the one thing I feared about this World Cup before the start.
Meanwhile, Eddie is taking the right approach. Whatever will be will be. England need to stay above all this noise.
He has very few selection issues moving forward as far as I’m concerned. My inclination, for the moment, is to keep with a match-fit Joe Marler ahead of Mako Vunipola with perhaps Mako coming off the bench against the Pumas.
For me, Sam Underhill returns at six. I just like that back-row combination with Billy Vunipola and Tom Curry. Some are calling for Willy Heinz ahead of Ben Youngs, but not me.
It is very encouraging to see Heinz take so easily to Test rugby, but stick with the tried and tested Youngs, Ford and Farrell at 9, 10, 12.
That will serve England best, but Heinz has been a great pick by Eddie as he has added much to the squad.