Eddie Jones called on Australia to bring their “best game to Twickenham” on Saturday, but prop Mako Vunipola believes England must improve their cohesiveness or they will be “taken apart” by the Wallabies.
It was a strange mood after England’s 21-8 win over Argentina. England had won, comfortably, but still there were lingering doubts over why they lost their tempo in certain parts of the match. England struggled for quick ball, their maul failed to fire and even their usually solid scrum was sent back on two occasions by the Pumas.
Jones cut a frustrated figure in the coaching box, with cameras picking him out at one point slamming his notebook against the desk, and appearing to say: “F—! How f—ing stupid are we?” England’s players would have taken note.
But despite this obvious frustration, Jones launched a robust defence of his side. He said they only had four training sessions together as a team and with a few fringe players given their chance to impress, and it was a match they will learn from.
“I thought most of the guys did pretty well, we just didn’t play well as a team,” Jones said. “I am disappointed if you thought we didn’t try hard, really disappointed. Because we tried hard. You’ve just got to look at the players when they came off. They gave everything. Sometimes it just doesn’t click.”
He continued: “Everyone was disappointed, weren’t they? The fans were disappointed, we were disappointed. We wanted to play well but they know they have a big game next week and they’re going to be up for it. We know we have to play better and we will.”
That is the challenge for England this week as they prepare to welcome the Wallabies who arrive at Twickenham with plenty of confidence having knocked over the All Blacks and beaten Wales in Cardiff.
Minutes after the Argentina match had finished, the England players had already turned their attention to the Wallabies. Chris Robshaw was watching the Wales-Australia match on his phone and Jones was also keeping abreast of events in Cardiff as he name checked Australia’s impressive driving maul for Tatafu Polota-Nau’s score during his postmatch press conference.
England will be paying close attention to Australia’s set piece and Vunipola, who was named Man of the Match against the Pumas, has warned his teammates they must find some cohesion or risk falling to their first defeat at home during Jones’ tenure.
“If we take the learning from this week, it shouldn’t happen again,” Vunipola said. “As a 33-man squad, we have to look at the game, see where we can improve and take the learning otherwise, if we don’t have that cohesiveness … Australia the team they are at the moment, and the form they’re in at the moment, they’ll take you apart.”
The scrum is inevitably an aspect that will come into focus this week given England and Australia’s history in this area and last year’s Test where the build-up was dominated by accusations of front-row skulduggery from both sides. But Jones did not lob any verbal scrum grenades in Australia’s direction following the win over Argentina, instead saying the Wallabies “are scrummaging well”.
Jones wants England to be more clinical with their maul — something that failed to ignite against Argentina — but Vunipola’s focus will also be on the scrum. England conceded two scrum penalties against the Pumas and Vunipola said they struggled to find consistency in this area.
“It was a mixed bag today [against Argentina]. We have to make sure it’s consistent to get good ball,” Vunipola said. “Looking at ourselves first it’s always a big challenge, set-piece-wise, against the Aussies.”
England are likely to stay introspective this week. They were subpar against Argentina, but with the likes of Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje both in the mix to face the Wallabies, Vunipola is adamant England will be a better side for a difficult opener to their autumn series.
“We’re going into it with a new slate, new opportunities to perform better than we did today and we know Australia will be a tough opponent and one we’re looking forward to.”