England need late Rokoduguni try for breathing space against Argentina
What better way to kick off a first England-focussed Best of the Weekend article than with the first England game of the autumn? Unfortunately, it was not a game to write home about.
England had named a side with an experienced core, but shy of arguably the two players most crucial to the dynamic of the team – Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell. They were up against a Pumas side that they had beaten in successive games in the summer, a side that was struggling to get any sort of positive result in any of their games. It should have been ruthless, a performance to put down a statement. It wasn’t. It was pedestrian, rusty and laborious.
The first half came and went with very few moments for the highlight reel. Mike Brown landed on his head after a challenge in the air that was harshly penalised with a yellow card. George Ford landed a few penalties and threw a superb wide pass for Nathan Hughes to latch onto and bundle his way over. The 14-3 half-time score should have been more balanced, and would have been, save for several missed Argentine kicks. When the sides trudged back out, it was Argentina who were keeping the phases going and pressurising England, but solid defence, led by Sam Underhill, kept the visitors at bay. Eventually, the game was given a shot in the arm through the lively substitute Alex Lozowski. His break set England up a few metres out and the ball worked its way left and then back right into the hands of arch-finisher Semesa Rokoduguni, who dived over to give the hosts a bit of elbow room. They needed it, with the number of kickable penalties given away and Argentina’s late try through Nicolas Sanchez the game could have been very different.
We need, and can hope for, a much-improved performance next weekend against Australia. Bringing back Farrell to help steer the ship and Itoje to add his trademark intensity will be key. What is abundantly clear is that this is perhaps the last great opportunity to build a style that goes with winning before the next world cup. Come Six Nations time it will be all about the wins. Next autumn will be cutting it too fine to change anything dramatically. Next week will tell us a lot about what lies ahead in the next two years.
Ireland secure record win over South Africa
Ireland thrashed South Africa 38-3 on Saturday evening, with a clinical tactical display that saw their visitors struggle to make any impact on the game whatsoever. The Springboks were very poor and fairly clueless with the ball in hand, but they were offered nothing by the Irish defence, and the kick-chase game from the home team was immaculate.
Jacob Stockdale impressed on his debut on the wing, scoring a try in the process, whilst centre Bundee Aki silenced a few doubters with a thundering hit in the opening exchanges.
On the face of it, you would have to make Ireland favourites for the Six Nations in 2018.
What went on elsewhere?
Scotland were made to work incredibly hard for a 44-38 win over Samoa, Wales succumbed to Australia for the thirteenth successive time 29-21, New Zealand were comfortable 38-18 winners against France and Italy edged Fiji 19-10.
Villain of the week
In line with our new TRB policy of England focus, I will keep these awards exclusive to fixtures that feature an England based team. This week (Anglo-Welsh not included), that leaves me with one game to choose from. I was a bit bemused by the call for a yellow on Joaquin Tuculet for his aerial challenge on Mike Brown, and that try-scoring pass looked forward to me. There was also another harsh penalty or two given against Argentina for innocent-looking tackles by Marius van der Westhuizen.
Hero of the week
A very tough one, being as there were no real standouts, but I’ll plump for Alex Lozowski for his entertaining cameo, which was punctuated by a splendid break to set up a try.
Try of the week
Pretty hands down for Semesa Rokoduguni’s effort here. A lovely break from Lozowski set them up in good field position before sending the ball both ways to put the Fijian-born winger over in the corner.
– Will Henry Slade work in the current England backline?
– Wins are all-important, but can England put together a string of performances to go with those in keeping with their world number two status?
– Who has cemented their place in the team for the rest of the AIs and who needs replacing?
– How did you think England’s next opponents – Australia and Samoa – looked?
by Joe Large