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Only three big wins will do for England – Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
England coach Eddie Jones

There’s been a lot of talk about injuries, selection and even a training game against Wales but it’s time to get down to business and nothing short of three comfortable wins will constitute a success for England this autumn.

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It’d be fascinating to be a fly on the wall at the training match between the English and Welsh forwards in Bristol today. I’ve seen these sorts of exercises many times throughout my career at different clubs and at international level and a lot of the time it does descend into a bit of a scrap because there are no consequences if you’re offside or cheating at a driving maul or pulling on someone’s arm in the lineout.

Nigel Owens is one of the best referees in the world and he is there to oversee it but, in reality, it’s very different to refereeing a regular game with all the cameras and coverage they get. He can penalise people but there are no consequences because it’s just a training game and nobody’s going to get cited.

It can be a dangerous proposition, players can be overly physical and there might be injuries as well but those involved won’t have played at the weekend and it will give them a competitive session and replicate the physicality they’ll face in the autumn internationals.

Whether it’s supposed to be full throttle or not, I guarantee that the players won’t want to leave that session knowing that they were part of the pack was shoved around in the scrum or dominated at lineout time.

It should help focus England’s minds and step things up ahead of the weekend as Eddie Jones has said they haven’t been able to do the intense training they wanted to so far because there have been a few injuries and the other bodies are sore from the relentless nature of the Premiership and Champions Cup.

This is a good way for him to get that intensity he wants at the start of this week but international coaches do have to understand that you can’t just flog players during the short time you have them and you have to manage their workload and take into account what they’ve done over the past six to eight weeks.

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Jones’ main job is selection and the big talking point for fans is at hooker and whether the England captain deserves his place when Jamie George is the country’s form hooker.

We all know the Saracens man would be in on form but selection isn’t just down to form and there are other factors to consider. Eddie Jones is a big believer in Dylan Hartley and the extra edge he brings to the team as a leader, with Jamie George making an impact off the bench, so I don’t expect that to change.

The balance between the second row and back row is the most difficult dilemma though.

Courtney Lawes has been tearing up trees for Northampton and Jones said last week that his fire has gone out. That could be mind games and an attempt to motivate him but I can only assume it’s getting his explanation in early for when he picks Chris Robshaw, Sam Underhill and Nathan Hughes in the back row.

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Robshaw looks likely to be in the starting XV and that is purely due to his experience because on form he is nowhere near the best number six in England. I would say he is third choice.

Lawes is in much better form but he doesn’t have that international experience in the back row. He has only started one Test at flanker and that was all the way back in the 2013 Six Nations against France, so you can see why Robshaw would get the nod for his leadership and to get the balance right.

Eddie Jones has boxed himself into a corner a bit by saying that Robshaw isn’t a number seven because, if he wanted to fit him in, our best back row might be Lawes, Robshaw and Hughes.

As pundits and fans, we just look at who’s in form but it’s only the coach’s opinion that counts and he has to look at the DNA of his team and consider the make-up of the side. He sees what goes on in camp and selects the team accordingly and you can’t argue with his record.

The same debate around balance and experience applies to the outside centre berth as well but it has to be Henry Slade’s time to shine this autumn. He has been streets ahead of Jonathan Joseph this year in club rugby and if he doesn’t get his chance now, I’m not sure when he will.

If Elliot Daly’s fit to start on the wing, then there might be a chance of starting Anthony Watson at full back and playing Semesa Rokoduguni or Denny Solomona on the other wing.

However, picking a back three of Watson, Rokoduguni and Solomona, or even Jonny May, would be a step too far as they are all x-factor players and you don’t want to throw too many unknown quantities in at once as well.

Watson would be the exciting choice at full back but if Eddie Jones doesn’t have his first choice wingers available, I expect him to stick with Mike Brown because of the solidity he provides at the back.

I go back to Martin Johnson when he got the England job in 2008 and chucked a load of youngsters in there together because they were in form and then had to backtrack after they were heavily beaten by Australia, South Africa and New Zealand in the autumn internationals.

Jones won’t be making a similar mistake.

Some coaches say that it’s all about performance and if you get that right, then the result will take care of itself but I believe England will be aiming for significant wins against Argentina and Australia to make a real statement going forwards and that means winning by 25 points rather than five.

England beat Argentina 27-14 last November and that was with Daly having been sent off after five minutes. We also beat them 2-0 in the summer with a scratch side and if you add into the mix that the Pumas have only won one of nine games in 2017 and that was against Georgia, England should be winning comfortably.

You can’t underestimate them as they have players that can run a game and ones that can burn you as well but anything less than a big win this Saturday will be a major disappointment.

Australia will be the real test next week but I still expect England to have too much as the game wears on and come away with a 15 or 20-point victory in the end and then the third game against Samoa will be an opportunity to try some of the younger players.

I think it’s a great idea from Mako Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi to encourage the England boys, who are reportedly getting around £22,000 per match this autumn, to give just five per cent of that or £1,000 to Samoa as their players are only earning £650 for playing in the same game.

They understand what it’s like for the Pacific Island nations and it shows they’re not just thinking about themselves. It’ll be great if they can get the other players on board but it’s down to the RFU to make more of a gesture to the Samoa Rugby Union and World Rugby to address the situation.

The match is thought to be generating £10 million and Samoa should be getting a greater share of the profits for the good of the game and to ensure that they’re sustainable moving forwards.

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