On Sunday, England definitely came in with a focus on dominating up front and there’s no question that was part of the game plan. For me, the disappointing thing was on the outside, they lacked fluidity in the baseline. I felt like Smith was playing too deep. He plays much flatter for Harlequins and is much more of a frontline threat. I’m not quite sure if he has been asked to play a bit deeper for England, but he threatens more when he attacks the line.
In test rugby there is definitely less space and we have seen that with someone like New Zealand fly-half Richie Mo’unga, who in Super Rugby is making breaks and causing a lot of trouble for defences, but in international rugby there is less space. Marcus is going through that right now and he is definitely learning.
I would also look for more rhythm in one of the bands, a lateral shot. I love Jack Nowell as a player, he puts in a lot of touches and goes looking for the ball, a great England server. I just felt like they lacked a bit of speed. By moving Manu to 12, they can use his size to get the ball off their front foot. Slade is a bit silkier with his hands.
Up front I’m not sure Maro had the impact at six in terms of driving the ball so if you put him back at second though I felt Alex Coles had a great debut. Yeah, he made a couple of mistakes, but he had good runs. The front row worked well too, and then you have options in the back row as well, whether you stay with Billy or have a back row with Tom Curry, Jack Willis and Sam Simmonds. That could give him some real mobility, some carrying power and footwork.
“I’m not 100 per cent sure what messages England are trying to get across”
Looking from the outside they went for a six to two split, they wanted to pick the biggest, most physical team they could have, and I think the idea was with Nowell and Joe Cokanasiga on the wings and with Tuilagi back in midfield that they I wanted to physically beat up Argentina. Unfortunately they were not able to impose themselves in that way.
Eddie has a lot of options, it all comes down to mindset. I’ve been in that position before as a manager where you’re disappointed and you give those players a chance to go out again and hopefully those combinations are a little bit better next week. Or you take the opportunity to look at new combinations.
He’s also talked about holding back on some tactics for the Rugby World Cup, but if that’s the case, he’s a much better coach than me! You want to be working on things and combinations. Sunday was the kind of game where I would have been sending a message on the pitch not to get caught up in the jostling going on, the Argentinians love that and it slows down the game. It would have been sending a message to get back in position and pick up the pace, not to let Argentina settle.
What I always found really positive from a manager’s perspective, especially in Wales, was trying to give everyone the narrative, particularly the press. I would say what we were trying to do, these are our plans for this campaign and for the next 18 months. When you come back and the press asks you, you can respond by saying that we told you we were going to do this or rest these players against these teams, to test certain things. So that, from a coaching perspective, you control the narrative and the message that you are conveying. At the moment, I’m not 100 per cent sure what messages England are trying to get across.