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16th November 2017

England’s opening Autumn International a “grindathon”

Let’s hope it doesn’t feel like watching England play football on Saturday
England’s opening Autumn International a “grindathon”

On Saturday England played the first of three Autumn Internationals against Argentina at Twickenham. The end result was a 21-8 victory for the Red and Whites but the performance told a far different story.

Head Coach Eddie Jones called the game a “grindathon”, adding that they were “off the pace a bit”. This was the first game in eight months so there was understandably going to be a little bit of sluggishness but perhaps the entire 80 minutes is a little much.

Around the hour mark flanker Sam Undersell conceded a penalty to which Jones slammed his notebook down in frustration. The performance was much more akin to that of their footballing counterparts and uncharacteristic of a side that has won 20 out of 21 test matches with Jones at the helm.

The match began in England’s favour. George Ford missed a first minute penalty with the kick rebound off the crossbar but thankfully was given a second opportunity six minutes later to make it 3-0. The lead lasted only three minutes before Emiliano Boffelli levelled the game up. Another bit of Argentine indiscipline led to the third penalty in the opening quarter of an hour and Ford converted a second time to put England back in the lead 6-3.

In the 22nd minute Mike Brown bravely leaps to catch a high kick but a challenge from Joaquin Tuculet leaves him in a heap on the floor. As Brown receives treatment the referee reviews the footage and deems it worthy of a yellow card. In my opinion Tuculet has his eyes on the ball the whole time and so a sin bin seems a little harsh. Brown is forced off the pitch from the injuries he sustained in the collision and is replaced by Semesa Rokoduguni.

A minute later the extra man helped England score the first try of the game with Nathan Hughes touching down following a wonderful pass from George Ford. Unfortunately he missed the conversion hitting the post. The remaining 17 minutes of the first half passed by with almost no incident except a fifth England penalty which Ford converted putting the score at 14-3 at the break.

The second half somehow found a way to be less enjoyable than the first. England struggled heavily and couldn’t seem to find their groove, Argentina on the other hand were unwilling to take advantage of that, hardly troubling them. It took 26 minutes before substitute Rokoduguni scored a try to award the first points of the half.

It was referred to the TMO as the try in the corner wasn’t clear enough for the referee. Sure enough after some deliberation it was awarded and Ford converted, extending England’s lead to 21-3. With two minutes to go it seemed Jones’ team was going to shut out Argentina and they wouldn’t score a try but they finally managed it on the 30th phase. In a fashion true to the spirit of the game the conversion was missed and all the fans went home miserable.

The statistics tell the same miserable story too with Argentina controlling a whopping 62 per cent possession and England forced to make twice the amount of tackles. The lack of desire to win or play any sort of cohesive rugby cost Argentina with them only scoring a singular try despite having a grip on the game.

Try scorer Semesa Rokoduguni’s day was especially important. Not only was this just his third cap after a debut three years ago but he served in Afghanistan as a British Army Lance Corporal. Following the game’s conclusion he said “It’s one of those emotional days but it’s an honour to represent the army as a whole.”

Next weekend England come up against Australia, who finished up 29-21 winners against Wales. Eddie Jones and his team will be feeling optimistic that they can beat the Wallabies losing one of their last seven meetings. You can watch the game from 3pm on Saturday on Sky Sports Action or Sky Sports Main Event.

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