A routine comfortable victory for England in the Japan match was on everyone’s minds in advance of this third Quilter International at Twickenham. A pleasant afternoon stroll at HQ, score a few tries, give some of the young guns a run out, a couple of ales for the Barbour brigade, and back home in time for Strictly.
Well, Japan had other ideas and were anything but lambs to the slaughter. This was most definitely not a walk in the park for the English side, clad in all anthracite, according to the England Rugby Store. Antracite is near-black or dark grey to the uninitiated in the latest Farrow and Ball colour charts.
England were certainly off colour for the majority of the match as the spirited Japanese side tore into them, maintaining their ethos of running rugby and launching attacks from everywhere and giving England a real fright. Only in the last ten minutes did England pull away and the final scoreline of 35-15 victory more than flattered them as the Japanese were still leading until just before the hour mark.
The Japanese must be applauded for their positive approach. Their speed of thought and action was mesmerising at times and England could not live with them for much of the match. In flanker and captain, Michael Leitch, they had an inspirational leader who would not look out of place in most international teams.
Eddie had picked something of an experimental English side, saving his big guns for bigger tests ahead, but his second XV came up woefully short. Their tactics of trying to match the Japanese in the first half with a wide expansive game played into the Japanese hands, for they were far superior at it. Other than one counter attack, which Elliot Daly began with a step and outside pass and ended with Danny Care racing in for an early try, via new boy Joe Cokanasiga and Jamie George, England were outsmarted and outflanked.
Eddie had to rethink and quickly. His initial reaction was to bring on ‘heavyweights’ Owen Farrell, Sam Underhill, Ben Moon and Kyle Sinckler in the period immediately after half time. Furthermore, he directed his team to employ a new strategy of power and directness. Japan did not score another point. It worked.
Teams are invariably better when they play to their strengths and pick players in their correct position. This is no surprise and Eddie will have learnt much from this trial and his playing personnel.
His replacement and subsequent ousting of Care, Zach Mercer and Alex Lozowski from the matchday squad for the Australia match tells its own story. Eddie was not happy. In their places, and the principle beneficiaries, are Richard Wigglesworth, Brad Shields and Ben Teo with bench recalls for Nathan Hughes and Manu Tuilagi.
English sides have traditionally been based on forward strength, which is not a bad place to start. Add to that strength, pace and power outside then that would be appear to be Eddie’s blueprint for success. It ultimately proved too much for Japan. On current form it is likely to be too much for Australia. Twickenham awaits.
To read my thoughts on week two, the New Zealand match, click here.
To read my thoughts on week one, the South Africa match, click here.