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The three fixable factors behind Eddie Jones' England stagnation

Eddie Jones' England weren't far away from making the grade.

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Jones' verdict on Smith kicking the ball dead rather than playing on

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Alex Davidson/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Eddie Jones has defended the decision by Marcus Smith to kick the ball dead rather than launch a last-gasp England counterattack to try and win Saturday night’s drawn Autumn Nations Series clash with the All Blacks. A beaten-looking English side had amazingly fought back from losing 6-25 to score three tries in the closing eight minutes at Twickenham to pull level.

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However, after Smith had kicked the conversion of the second Will Stuart try to tie up the score in a contest that New Zealand appeared set for a long period to win comfortably, the out-half decided to kick the ball into the stands to end the game following the final seconds restart from halfway by the Kiwis.

At the time, the momentum was fully in favour of England given their intoxicating grandstand finish against an opposition that was reduced to 14 players when Beauden Barrett was yellow carded on 72 minutes for foul play at a breakdown just before the first Stuart try.

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Smith, though, spurned the invitation to launch one last-gasp counter and there were some boos from England fans when he opted to punt the ball off the pitch rather than attack the space in front of him. His coach, though, had his back at the post-game media conference, insisting that it was the type of decision he had no influence over and that he had to support his player in that type of situation.

Asked about the kick out at the end, Jones said: “It is always up to the players, mate. I trust their decision-making. I’m not on the field, I don’t have access to them, so I just trust their decision.” So do you back it then, do you agree with it? “As I said, that’s their decision.”

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Over to skipper Owen Farrell then, what was the discussion on the pitch before the New Zealand restart? “We just wanted to see where we were at at the ruck. If we got go-forward and got on the front foot and we had an opportunity we wanted to take it, if not we wanted to make a good decision. I think that was what was done.”

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Jones’ counterpart, New Zealand boss Ian Foster, had a very different view of what happened. “Was I surprised? Yeah, I was. All I know is if you flipped it over I would have liked our guys to have a crack so I am not sure what their tactics were but to be fair to them, they were running hot for seven, eight minutes. Things were going really well and they probably felt like getting back to a draw was a massive achievement in that time and so they probably decided to take it.”

Jones later described the second-half contribution of Smith as the youngster’s finest 40 minutes so far in an England shirt. It was while speaking about the even more inexperienced starting scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet, who endured a difficult evening before he exited with an injury, that the coach sang the praises of both, especially the No10 Smith.

“JVP, the bone went through his finger. Something like that. He is a tough young bloke so he should be okay,” he said before rating the No9’s performance in a match where his early intercepted pass gave the All Blacks an early lead.

“A brilliant young player, that is one of the best games for him, where things don’t go well you have got to battle through. That is when they learn a lot and I thought for two young halves, JVP and Marcus, that is the best 40 I have seen Marcus play Test rugby. Aggressive, decisive, wanted to own the game, not as an individual but as part of the team. That was a big step forward for the young man.”

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