Jones came under some pressure from the media over his team selection heading into this clash, despite it really being a non-starter on paper (no disrespect to the travelling Tongans). Usually, these types of clashes end up being fairly predictable affairs with a close, brutal start, falling by the wayside to loose, unstructured Rugby which largely benefits the team with better chemistry and better organisation. Jones made a statement by picking a fairly reflective side, a side you’d expect to see him line up against any other tier one nation. That can ruffle the feathers of sports journalists who always throw the ‘play the kids’ mantra about. So, did it work in his favour?
Radwan Continues to Shine
Although he had a fairly quiet second half, Radwan really is electric. His off the ball work is something that I’m sure the England camp will only keep improving, as he worked effectively in the opening encounters off of his wing into the centres. His distribution is surprisingly strong for a winger, throwing a couple of pearlers to set up opportunities in the early exchanges. He also always beats the first man, which is a must at international level. He took his try well and continued to showcase his pace on multiple occasions, most interestingly in the kick chase. Before he suffered a bit of a knock, May also looked really impressive in the first half and it’s great to see a player under pressure really bounce back. He also took his moments well and Tonga really had no answer for the speed around the corners.
The Curry Experiment
I think the overriding feelings on the Curry experiment at 8, is that it’s not quite clicking. Although you don’t loose any size in that back row, with Lawes adding his hefty frame at Blindside, you do definitely lose a ball carrying option. Curry is an aggressive runner, and quite difficult to put down, but he just doesn’t possess the natural physicality of an 8 who can break tackles; it also drew him away from the breakdown where we know he is most effective. When Underhill came off, Dombrandt definitely added some traditional cohesion to that back row and it just felt as if balance was restored a touch. I don’t think Dombrandt was necessarily given enough time to show what he’s capable of, but there is definitely potential there.
Full Back for the Future?
Steward feels like a shoo-in for that 15 jersey for the next decade if injuries permit. The guy had a game to remember, dominating the air with impressive re-gatherings and popping up effectively in the attacking line over and over again. He’s a real weapon, with an impressive turn of pace, a big boot and a large stature. What made him so impressive, was his natural confidence from the first carry. You could tell he was playing with the bit between his teeth, unafraid by taking some big collisions with these Tongan behemoths.
A Legitimate Captaincy Option?
Lawes is another player who gets overlooked by the media and sometimes even bagged for being selected in the starting lineup. I felt like his game went up a notch with the captaincy levelled on his shoulders, and the guy was comfortably one of the best forwards on the pitch. Ever-present off the ball, putting in some huge hits (including a try saver), disrupting breakdowns and shutting down channels; he was also impressive with ball in hand, looking really dynamic and actually supplying that number 8 option that England were missing. If England can balance that back row properly before the World Cup, Lawes could well end up being one of the pack’s most important players.
The fallout to this game really did surprise me, with Slade being given MotM and popping up in a bunch of TotW’s. I actually felt that England lacked cohesion in the midfield, and the majority of the errors fell in that thirteen channel. A couple times caught in isolation, a loopy interception ball that nearly caused a breakaway try, a couple of missed opportunities – it was all a little frenetic. I don’t think Slade had a bad game, and his inside man Tuilagi didn’t quite have the impact you’d expect him to make – it largely came down to both Furbank (who I underestimated) and Smith, cutting great some great lines and throwing some decent dummies; brave stuff. Atkinson also had great moments when he came on, and he looked strangely accomplished for a debutant. I don’t think there are any problems in the centres, and I think with Smith especially their attacking output will rise exponentially, but it wasn’t a vintage performance.
Courtney Lawes, Ellis Genge, Freddie Steward, Adam Radwan