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What Borthwick's nailing that Jones got wrong for England – Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
Eddie Jones, coach of Japan talks to Marcus Smith after the LipovitanD Challenge Cup match between Japan and England at National Stadium on June 22, 2024 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by MB Media/Getty Images)

England might not have got the test Eddie Jones promised them but the win over Japan was perfect preparation for the challenge of the All Blacks.

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Sometimes you want a tough, physical encounter as a warm-up so you can go into a big series battle-hardened but it’s the end of a long season and New Zealand are a team that are going to pose problems for you mentally and with their variety and speed in attack rather than bludgeon you.

The Brave Blossoms kept the ball alive and moved it quickly at times but as soon as we saw their team sheet with eight debutants in the match day 23, including a couple of students thrown in for good measure, we knew Jones’ claim that England were going to be taken to the wire was ludicrous.

Steve Borthwick’s men did concede a couple of tries in the space of a few minutes towards the end and discipline was an issue with 16 penalties conceded but it felt like a training run and that was ideal in terms of building cohesion in attack.

England’s Marcus Smith (C) runs to score a try during the international rugby union match between Japan and England at the National Stadium in Tokyo on June 22, 2024. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)

It was Marcus Smith’s first Test start at fly-half for a year and, despite what some others have suggested, he delivered a mature performance with a couple of try assists, a try of his own and the feeling that something was going to happen every time he touched the ball.

Nobody has been more impressed than me with Fin Smith’s displays for Northampton this season but the Harlequins man is three years his senior, has international experience to go with his box of tricks and is the next cab off the rank.

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George Ford, and Owen Farrell at a later date as well, may well be back but for now Marcus is unencumbered by the sensation of their breath on the back of his neck in terms of competition for his place or their presence as leaders in the environment and it is rightly his team to drive forwards.

That’s one of the positive elements of the culture that Borthwick has created and fostered since he took over. It hasn’t always been the most exciting style, although that has changed for the better in the past few games, but players seem to know where they stand.

Previous coaches, Jones probably most notably of all, have got that wrong. Now there are opportunities for young, in-form players to come in and show what they can do but they generally have to bide their time and there is a clear pecking order.

BAGSHOT, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 19: Tom Roebuck of England takes on Immanuel Feyi-Waboso of England during a training session at Pennyhill Park on February 19, 2024 in Bagshot, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan – RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)
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Look at Ollie Sleightholme and Tom Roebuck for example. The former unquestionably had the better club campaign but the latter was involved in this year’s Six Nations squad without being capped and he got his chance off the bench against Japan and took it with both hands.

The same goes for Fin Baxter and Bevan Rodd with the Sale man’s greater experience and involvement in previous squads giving him the edge, although I do still expect Joe Marler to be the starting loosehead for the first Test against the All Blacks.

Barring injury, that’ll be the only change to the starting XV from the team that beat Japan to the one that lines up in Dunedin next weekend for me though as Chandler Cunningham-South’s audition for the starting blindside role couldn’t have gone much better.

He won five lineouts and made 13 tackles, several of them bone-crunching ones, as well as scoring a try and getting over the gainline with most of his handful of carries, and his style of play is perfectly suited to the opposition and conditions to come.

The only blot on England’s copybook really was the sending off for Charlie Ewels and you have to feel for him after spending two years out of the international fold and now getting a second red card in as many Tests after the one he picked up against Ireland in 2022.

World Rugby red cards Quinlan Six Nations
England’s Charlie Ewels gets red carded in 2022 (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

I don’t believe he intended to injure Michael Leitch or hit him in the way he did but it was reckless, his tour is now over after just eight minutes of action, with Nick Isiekwe replacing him, and you have to question whether we’ll see him in an England shirt again unfortunately.

Given that there is a hierarchy, I’d expect Alex Coles to be the man to fill that bench role against the All Blacks now and his extra size and ability to cover back row as well might even give England more options.

New Zealand have named their squad for the series now, with Scott Barrett selected as captain ahead of Ardie Savea, and there are some stellar names in there for England to watch out for in the form of Damian McKenzie, Jordie and Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane and whoever they go for on the wings.

Scott Robertson has lost a hell of a lot of rugby IQ and nous as well as talent since he took over in the wake of the World Cup though, with the likes of Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith, Will Jordan, Sam Cane, Shannon Frizell, Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock all missing for one reason or another.

England have only ever won two Tests away against New Zealand, in 1973 and 2003, so that tells you everything you need to know about how tough it’s going to be for them but there is no better time to be facing the All Blacks really.

Some people might have been surprised by Borthwick’s decision to pick a first choice team to face Japan and that does mean a good few of the 36-man squad won’t get any game time on tour but that is him all over.

It’s all about continuity, building cohesion and ultimately results and it’s hard to argue with him. In contrast, New Zealand are guaranteed to have around half a minimum of six changes to the starting XV from their last Test in the World Cup final.

The build-up to the first Test at Forsyth Barr Stadium will be fascinating but don’t expect much fanfare or change from the men in white. England are in a good place and the comfortable win over a callow Japan, with the added bonus of putting Eddie Jones’ bombast to bed, was the perfect preparation.

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Comments

5 Comments
B
Barry 30 days ago

Borthwick has made the genius play of not announcing his ambition to make England the best team in test rugby.

That always hung around poor old Eddie. Admittedly they were sensational in lacing the ABs in the 2019 semis, but it was just managing expectations after that.

J
JD Kiwi 30 days ago

Helps that Borthwick's selected proper centres at 12 and let the fly half steer the ship.

T
T-Bone 30 days ago

Good to know the ABs won’t bludgeon

As for Ewells why would you feel sorry for him? Darcy Swain of the north

j
john 30 days ago

Marcus Smith fantastic C C South superb wamboso special player

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