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Where Maro Itoje believes England are going wrong

By PA
England v Argentina – Autumn International – Twickenham Stadium

Maro Itoje admits England must urgently address their habit of starting new campaigns with a defeat as they once again face the task of rebuilding from a position of weakness.

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Argentina claimed only their second win at Twickenham on Sunday after ending a 10-Test losing run in the fixture with a 30-29 victory in the Autumn Nations Series opener.

It was deja vu for England, meanwhile, as they emulated the Six Nations and July tour of Australia by falling at the first hurdle – a trend that head coach Eddie Jones blames on a lack of preparation time.

With their players scattered across the globe and some even in action on the previous weekend, the Pumas may raise an eyebrow at Jones’ claim, especially given the cohesion they displayed.

If the pattern continues into the World Cup next year England could be facing disaster and Itoje knows it cannot be allowed to continue.

“We have 11 clubs now and everyone is playing a different style of rugby, everyone has a different thought process,” Itoje said.

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“We haven’t perhaps been so good at flicking the switch to England mode. And that’s something we need to get better at, because this is not something we want to embrace or continue any longer.

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“One thing is being aware of it and we know that’s becoming a bit of a trend. We need to get back on England time, England mode and the England way of thinking a bit sooner, and create that teamship a bit sooner than we have sometimes.

“It can take a week or two to get going but we need to get going from the off. The group is tight and together off the field, but we need to translate that on to the field.

“No one’s going to be shouting at each other, or calling people out. It’s just being honest with each other about where we were good, where we were bad and where we need to improve. We all want to improve because we don’t want results like this.”

Japan are next up on Saturday before heavyweights New Zealand and South Africa swagger into the capital looking to claim statement wins ahead of the World Cup.

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Jones’ England are back in the crosshairs of critics, most notably a disapproving Sir Clive Woodward, but the Australian head coach believes that will have a galvanising effect.

“We’re a team who responds really well to pressure, that’s the character of the team. It has been historically for England,” Jones said.

England have been lifted by the unexpected return to fitness of hooker Jamie George.

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George was expected to miss the entire campaign after breaking two metatarsals on club duty for Saracens against Leicester on October 1, the initial prognosis a 10-to-12-week period of recovery.

But the Lions front row has been included in a 36-man training squad for Saturday’s visit of Japan to Twickenham with England confirming he is available for selection.

Back three reinforcements have also arrived with Tommy Freeman making a successful return from a foot injury for Northampton against Exeter on Friday, while Jonny May is available after recovering from an elbow problem.

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Jon 3 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Sopoaga is going to be more than good enough to look up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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f
finn 11 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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