On paper, this has been a faultless start to the 2019 Rugby World Cup for England. In three games Eddie Jones’ men have returned with three bonus-point wins, racking up 119 points and only conceding two tries. Furthermore, selection decisions have paid off, with George Ford looking exciting and creative at fly-half.
This is a marked contrast to England’s World Cup campaign four years ago, when they crashed out at the group stages after defeats to Wales and Australia, failing to live up to expectations of host nation. This time around, the English boys have qualified from the group with one game to go.
Yesterday was supposed to be England’s first real test, however the Pumas – who were down to 14 men after the 18th minute and have only won one game in this calendar year – failed to pose any threat to this England side.
And still, somehow, England have not been totally convincing. Whilst tries have been scored, they have not come in the same free-flowing manner that fans have been used to seeing over the last four years. England seemed rusty in the first half of yesterday’s game against Argentina and, whilst Eddie Jones has pinned this on the almost week-long break between matches, his men cannot afford to be this lax in next week-end’s game against France.
Emblematic of this rusty start, was the performance of Owen Farrell. In comparison to Ford, Farrell has not looked himself at this World Cup. Rather than pulling the strings in a ten-twelve pivot, he is playing the junior role and failing to create the chances or score the tries that are so characteristic of his game.
Maybe it’s the pressure of captaining his country in a World Cup, maybe it’s a response to the seemingly targeted nature of high-tackles against him? But when was the last time you remember Owen Farrell missing four consecutive kicks? Something’s not right.
Looking to Saturday, England should be confident if not convinced of victory over France. It will be a vital test and act as a marker to prove where they are as a side before progressing to the business end of the competition.
Eddie Jones may make some changes in a back-line which seems disjointed, potentially opting to bring in Henry Slade – who has only featured as a substitute in this World Cup after injuring his knee in the summer. This would leave him with the defining decision of this England squad over the previous half-a-decade. Fly-half: Farrell’s experience or Ford’s flair? time will tell.
By Will Sewell.