CHRIS FOY: England have got to start boxing clever and there is no room for error against Japan after Argentina defeat… never mind what awaits next year – another loss and Eddie Jones’ side will be staring into oblivion
- England need to get back on track when they face Japan on Saturday
- Eddie Jones’ side need to avoid looking too far ahead to next year’s World Cup
- Argentina made them pay for a lack of pragmatism at Twickenham last week
- If England put effort into current displays, they will build momentum for 2023
- Another defeat on Saturday and England will be staring into oblivion this year
England are going back to the present on Saturday afternoon with a welcome reversion to short-term thinking. Never mind what awaits next year — they need to win now and they know it.
No sooner had England dared to allow some of the focus to shift to the 2023 World Cup than Argentina came along last Sunday and made them pay for a lack of pragmatism. Head coach Eddie Jones has accepted responsibility for putting too much onus on the ultimate objective and that flawed approach has altered markedly in recent days.
‘We’ve just tried to streamline it this week, get the messaging more about where we are now rather than where we want to go,’ said Jones. ‘In retrospect, that was probably my fault from last week. It was a bit too much about where we want to go as a team rather than focusing on Argentina.’
England need to fight back from slump against Argentina to beat Japan on Saturday
A lot of focus is being put on next year when England should be looking to build momentum
Captain Owen Farrell was asked about focusing on England’s here-and-now priorities rather than the long-term mission and he said, pointedly: ‘That is pretty key, yeah, which in turn will help us in the long run, hopefully.’
That is the issue in a nutshell — if England put every effort into maximising their performance on Saturday and continue with that outlook, the momentum generated will enhance their World Cup prospects in France next year.
Jones’s team have done enough losing this year. Three successive campaigns have begun with a defeat — and there have been five of those already in 2022, from nine Tests.
Being ambushed by Japan does not bear thinking about, especially with New Zealand and South Africa to come to Twickenham. Those are dangerous fixtures, so England must win this one, but it will be no formality. Jones has changed a third of his starting team in a quest to add blistering pace, but the worry is that some of those who have been promoted are chronically short of game time.
Jonny May has been injured with a dislocated elbow, Jack van Poortvliet has been held back by Leicester’s rotation policy and Sam Simmonds has been an increasingly peripheral figure at Exeter since announcing he will be departing for Montpellier at the end of the season. All of that trio — and other members of the squad — lack match sharpness, not helped by the impact of Wasps and Worcester going into administration. England used to struggle from players being over-used, but now they are potentially under-cooked.
Eddie Jones’ side have done enough losing this year and Argentina was the latest slip-up
There have been encouragingly honest messages about how it is time they stop overthinking and set about playing with freedom. Another full house at HQ will hope that they add on-field substance to that statement of intent. The management are adamant that the squad have a licence to be instinctive, so let’s see that. To hell with holding back attacking ploys until the World Cup — a promising vision has to start taking shape now.
Japan gave the hosts an almighty scare the last time they came to Twickenham four years ago — and the following autumn they beat Ireland and Scotland on the way to the quarter-finals of the World Cup they hosted.
Now, Japan are seeking to resume their push into the global elite. Having done so much for rugby in the country during his time as head coach of the Brave Blossoms, Jones is enthused by their progression and potential.
‘To have such a vibrant international competition is absolutely fantastic,’ he said.
‘Whoever thought Japan could be consistently ninth or 10th in the world?
‘We should be celebrating the fact this is a big game at Twickenham and it’s an 82,000 sell-out. You can’t buy a ticket. How good is that?’
Jones must galvanise his stuttering team as defeat could leave them staring into oblivion
Jones spends time in Tokyo as a consultant to Suntory Sungoliath and when asked if interest levels in the sport are still high there, he added: ‘The game is going through the roof. Post-2019, I remember going to a game — it was NEC v Suntory, in the western suburbs of Tokyo. I had to get escorted out of the ground.
‘I got absolutely mobbed. My wife had to come and get me. I was getting pinned against this sushi caravan and the fans are coming from everywhere.
‘There were more than 60,000 at the National Stadium for Japan v New Zealand. That is fantastic.’
Jones’s fondness for these opponents endures, but his job is to galvanise his own stuttering team. England cannot lose or they will be staring at oblivion this year.
If they do what they have talked about doing — stop overthinking and free themselves up — then Saturday’s game might serve as a timely re-awakening.
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