England vs USA: Eddie Jones puts his money where his mouth is to prove faith in his World Cup squad

The Independent Sports 1 month ago

You can’t accuse Eddie Jones of not putting his money where his mouth is. The England boss has preached of the 31-man effort that it will take in Japan, yet this match against the United States was when those words would be truly put to the test.

As it is, Jones will back up his words with his actions. All available players in the squad will have featured across the two games so far at the Rugby World Cup if Jack Singleton and Mark Wilson come off the bench against the USA on Thursday, which given the four-day turnaround imposed on the squad is highly likely.

But while there could be justification for Jones, there is an equal amount of risk.

Three of the five players retained from the victory over Tonga played 80 minutes on Sunday, just four days before the USA fixture. Joe Marler and George Ford, the other two players backing up, played 50 and 68 minutes respectively, and with five of the replacements also having featured in that match, there is a danger that this physically proves too much an ask.

There is also the issue surrounding what these fresh players go out and do. For a number of them, they know that if a team for the World Cup final was picked tomorrow, they would not feature. That’s why tomorrow’s match may prove so important to their individual hopes of putting their hand up and impressing Jones.

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Two good runs that gave England good field position, and a lovely pass for May to run onto in the lead up to Tuilagi’s second try. But at fault for not being deep enough off Slade’s pass that would have bagged him his own try.
Quiet game until he exploded into life late on with a mazy run from his own 22 to the Tongan 22, leaving defender after defender in his wake.
The star performer by a country mile. First try was born out of his brute strength as he burst through a tackle attempt from Kalamafoni and carried two over the line with him. Second try was more of a case of right place, right time, and he was a constant problem for Tonga to deal with all afternoon.
Pretty quiet throughout and missed his first conversion effort, but had one good run in the lead up to Tuilagi’s opener.
Nice break and awareness to set up Tuilagi for his second try. Made a strong tackle on Tuitavake in the second half, but left the field with what looked like an injury soon after.
Failed to get much going as a blunt England attack took too long to get firing. More was expected from the Ford-Farrell combination.
Fairly quiet throughout, though could have been a little different had he managed to ground the ball when he took a quick penalty. Replaced short of the hour by Willi Heinz.
Strong work in the scum as England were rarely tested, but didn’t manage to get through much carrying.
Excellent in the lineout as he hit all of his throws in an area where England are dominating the game. Looked to shake off an ankle niggle and was replaced soon after by Luke Cowan-Dickie, who was on hand to score the final try.
Like Marler, a solid shift in the front row but guilty of conceding the first penalty in an ill-disciplined start to the match.
Not as prominent as Itoje but still got through plenty of carrying for the side.
Excellent in the air as George repeatedly went to him, and managed to pinch one of Tonga’s throws along with sealing a turnover from a lineout maul. Carried well and got through plenty of defensive work.
Lead the charge with 15 tackles but will need to up his work-rate with the ball in hand.
England’s most prominent forward, winning a penalty at the breakdown and also managing to seal a turnover when first into the ruck. Unlucky not to score a try as his effort was held up by the slimmest of margins.
Will be feeling the effects of Zane Kapeli’s enormous tackle on him in the opening exchanges, and slightly faded from the game following the hit. Will need to be more prominent as the tournament wears on.
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But the Australia has a particular way of being impressed, and it is not about players going out as individuals and trying to steal the show.

“That’s the danger for us,” Jones said. “It can happen in the second or the third game where guys – and I’ve seen it with South Africa playing against Tonga in 2007 – players who might think it’s their only game of the World Cup so they go out there and they try to play for themselves rather than play for the team.

“We were lucky to beat them. A number of guys played outside the team and played for themselves, so one of the most important things in this game is that the players play for the team, and if they play for the team they put themselves in a better selection mix.

 “The World Cup’s not a sprint. No one remembers how well you play in the first two rounds, everyone remembers how well you play at the end of the tournament and the key is to be in your best condition at the end of the tournament. So we want to be better against the USA than we were against Tonga, but that’s the only caveat we have on this.”

With the USA preparing for their opening game of the tournament after a pre-tournament trying camp on the island of Okinawa – 2,000km away from when England prepared in Miyazaki – they will be raring to go, having been forced to wait the longest of any nation to get their campaign underway.

What defines US rugby? The Eagles will not get the big billing of pride and passion that Tonga got because they do not have a reputation of physicality that goes before them – which is in a way unfair as Test rugby across the board these days is just as physical as the next game.

What the USA do bring for the first time though is professionalism. The creation and expansion of Major League Rugby in the States means that for the first World Cup, every member of the squad plays professional rugby.

"US players have grown over the last two years,” said American No 8 Cam Dolan. “A full-time training environment is massive. We had some guys only training on maybe a Wednesday and Thursday ... working an accounting job or looking after families at the same time.

"You can train all day, but if you don’t have that match experience, you don’t have the fitness, especially on an international level."

With the USA two places higher in the World Rugby rankings than Tonga, England cannot afford to take them lightly. Normally, Jones’s squad selection would suggest they are doing exactly that, but with the short turnaround – shorter than any England have had to face at a World Cup – it is the smart play, yet only as smart as a gamble can possibly be. If England do slip up, it will be Jones’s stake on the line.


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