England put on a much-improved performance against Japan after their limp display over the Pumas. An error-ridden Japan were poor, allowing England to rediscover their confidence ahead of this Saturday’s huge clash where they intend to beat the All Blacks.
New Zealand, by contrast, was taken all the way by a brave Scottish team before showing their class in the final quarter. A bit of unpredictability and retaining Messrs Simmonds and van Poortvliet might just get England over the line against New Zealand.
Charlie Inglefield looks at England’s selection options ahead of Saturday’s clash at Twickenham.
Retain Simmonds and van Poortvliet
Eddie Jones brought in Sam Simmonds to replace an off-colour Billy Vunipola and the Exeter No.8 justified his inclusion. Simmonds and Tom Curry led England’s much-improved line speed in defence against Japan and he carried forcefully throughout. England will face the outstanding Ardie Savea on Saturday and Simmonds should keep his place as a result. England need to play with pace and purpose and Simmonds is the kind of player who will suit the conditions.
As we all know, Jones does not like the conventional selection and he will likely go back to Billy Vunipola. Vunipola was willing to throw the ball around when he came on in the second half but did not look comfortable in that role when the game started to break up. Vunipola’s strength is the power he can create trucking the ball up – not a fast-paced, open game that Saturday will probably turn into.
The same can be said for the van Poortvliet and Ben Youngs argument at scrum-half. Van Poortvliet was at the heart of everything positive that England threw at Japan. He has a lot to learn at this level but has the pace, and vision to make the number nine shirt his own. Based on past selections for big games Jones will bring back Youngs for the visit of New Zealand. van Poortvliet like Simmonds can hurt the All Blacks by playing quick around the ruck and in open play.
Aaron Smith, who will come back at scrum-half and Ardie Savea are dynamic decision-makers who lead the All Black charge. As a result England must not go into their shells and rely on a continual air-raid assault – New Zealand are too good at picking teams apart if they are given a plethora of possession to play with.
Pick Slade beside Tuilagi
The raft of changes that Eddie Jones made in the final quarter against Japan knocked England out of their dominance for a while. One player who did make the most of his entrance was Henry Slade, who won his 50th cap last weekend.
Slade is such a good player when he is on it. It would have greatly pleased Eddie Jones and England fans alike that Slade made a real impact when coming on a substitute. He, together with Freddie Steward were the most dangerous backs on the pitch. The discussion around the benefits for and against the Farrell/Smith combination won’t go away and for the visit of the All Blacks picking one of them alongside Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade would make sense.
Farrell is a test-match animal on these occasions together with his masterful goal-kicking, Tuilagi can punch holes and Slade is the creative conjurer. Smith is definitely the future for England but for this weekend, and possibly South Africa, he could be a significant attacking threat coming off the bench.
Slade on-form is so important to England because of his versatility. With Elliot Daly deemed surplus to requirements, it is Slade who now takes on that ‘versatility’ tag. He can cover full-back, fly-half and centre which is mightily useful in a World Cup squad.
Another change could be to return Maro Itoje back to his rightful position in the second row. He has been his usual busy self these last few weekends in the blindside jumper but is so much more effective as a lock. It would also give England the opportunity to beat the All Blacks if Jones wanted to use the bulk of a Billy Vunipola or the jackling ability of Jack Willis alongside the dynamism of Sam Simmonds and Tom Curry.
England must attack to beat the All Blacks
England looked more relaxed against Japan – admittedly Jamie Joseph’s men allowed England to gain an early foothold in the game. Jones will understandably lean on the stunning 2019 Semi-Final win as the template to follow. Regarding his selection for this weekend – will Jones revert back to his tried and tested – Billy Vunipola back at No.8 and Ben Youngs at scrum-half? Probably.
Vunipola and Youngs are wonderful players and bring specific strengths to their respective positions. But bringing pace and attacking vision are not amongst the strengths they offer. If it is a territory-squeezing, kick-pressure game that Jones traditionally likes, then these two will be trusted to lead that strategy. Against New Zealand that will be a dangerous ploy.
Scotland largely nullified the likes of Caleb Clarke, and the Barrett boys by denying them space and mixing up their attacking game. The Scots led by Stuart Hogg, Ali Price and Finn Russell kept New Zealand’s defence guessing – quick tap penalties, grubber kicks behind the defensive line, inside balls, etc. It worked for sixty minutes before TJ Perenara and his fellow ‘benchies’ showed their class to lead the All Blacks home.
A bit of the unpredictable by England might just give them a chance of repeating their 2019 Semi-Final victory. It is why Messrs. Henry Slade, Sam Simmonds and Jack van Poortvliet should start. The All Blacks’ defence on 2022s evidence is not what it once was. They have conceded 77 points in the last three games – meaning, there are gaps in the New Zealand line that England can exploit.
England v New Zealand – Saturday, November 19. Twickenham, London
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images