Anyone at Twickenham last Saturday will attest to the fact that England were far from their best. Basic errors and a lack of cohesion were the most obvious problems, but fly-half Toby Flood insists that the squad are not far from clicking.
The backs, certainly, lacked fluency and looked rigid. Is this perhaps down to too structured an approach, and a greater need to throw caution to the wind? Flood says finding some middle ground between the two is the key.
“It’s always a fine balance between implementing a bit of structure on the game, and playing heads up rugby,” he says.
He concedes, however, that England failed to strike that balance on Saturday.
“We played a fairly stop-start game for most of the afternoon and didn’t really get much momentum,” he admits. “I think the biggest factor for us now is just getting some go forward and some continuity into our game, and making sure everyone knows what we want to do and is working in the same direction.”
An element of rustiness always pervades the opening exchanges of the autumn series amongst the Northern Hemisphere sides; shorn of time together since the summer and in this case, thanks to the Lions tour, the Six Nations, it takes a while for partnerships to gel again. Flood admits as much, but is keen to highlight that, first and foremost, England have got off to a winning start.
“It’s always a bit sketchy the first game of the autumn series,” he points out, “with the boys getting back used to playing with each other.
“All in all though I think it’s positive that we’re in the situation that we won the test match rather than losing it.”
Argentina roll into South West London this weekend to try and halt a Twickenham winning streak that has now reached an impressive five games. The visitors’ last international outing was a 54-17 pummelling by Australia… the very team England just defeated. The home side also white-washed the Pumas in Argentina over the summer, so this should be a formality, surely? Unsurprisingly, Flood doesn’t quite see it in such a black-and-white manner.
“They’re an incredibly physical side, as everyone knows, and their set piece and line-out are the areas around which they base their rugby,” he says.
“They’re very strong, if not as good as anyone in the world, there. They’ve also got huge amounts of experience, playing in the Rugby Championship for a couple of years now, where they’ve caused a lot of teams a lot of problems, and were very unfortunate in a couple of games.
“They’re incredibly abrasive at the breakdown, they look to harass and harry you, and they’re incredibly strong at running through you. They’re a team that can cause you a lot of problems.”
Nobody will be taking anything for granted, but Flood knows better than most about Argentinian pride and passion, playing in a Leicester Tigers team that this season boasts three Pumas: the wily, experienced prop Marcos Ayerza, and the two new signings, flyer Gonzalo Camacho and hugely promising prospect Pablo Matera. Matera, in particular, has impressed the club captain in his short stay in the East Midlands.
“He’s settled in really well,” says Flood. “He’s a very strong player, athletically very gifted, and played tremendously well throughout that Rugby Championship.
“Then you’ve got Marcos [Ayerza] there, who’s been around for a long time at Leicester and is, on his day, one of the best loosehead props in the world. Really, you’ve got to look no further than these guys that we play with all the time to know that they’re an outstanding side.
“They’ve got a huge amount of depth, and they’ve got guys that can break games open, so they’re as good a team as there is really.”
There are ten players in the Argentina squad with experience of playing in the Premiership, including eight who still ply their trade there, so they will be well versed in England’s ways.
For England themselves, it is a bigger game than many realise. A scrappy win against Australia under their belts, they face world champions New Zealand in a week’s time. This time last year they sprung one of the biggest surprises the rugby world has seen for a long time in beating the All Blacks, but it is doubtful if, deep down, even the players themselves truly expect that to happen again.
A win, and a win with style, over the Pumas is an absolute must if England are to consider this autumn a success.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Get the latest behind-the-scenes news from Toby Flood and his England teammates with O2 Inside Line, the weekly show from O2 – proud sponsor of England Rugby – and the RFU, at www.O2InsideLine.com
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images