Twickenham resembled the first day back at school. A new term. Some new faces. Some old faces. A new uniform. The need for pupils to reacquaint themselves with each other again. Some unease and a little nervous tension. This was very much the case for the new England team, the class of 2017.
Yet they won and they never looked like losing. Winning becomes a habit. A good one too. For in top level international rugby, winning is all important. It builds momentum and confidence. Winning ugly is never a bad thing.
For al their recent run of defeats, Argentina are a worthy opponent and cannot be taken lightly. They are invariably big and strong and compete well in the tight and at the breakdown. Yet here they were poor, slow and ponderous and clearly feeling the effects of a long hard summer playing the big three in the Southern Hemisphere. They were not helped by some abysmal goal kicking and sadly, Juan Martin Hernandez, once their finest talisman, seems to be waning and one gorgeous one handed flick apart, he was a shadow of his former self.
For the home team, headmaster Eddie Jones gave his pupils 6 out of 10, which felt about right. Star pupil status was officially awarded to Mako Vunipola, and he really has developed into a world class operator in everything he does. He was closely followed by the Wasp, Nathan Hughes, who looks much fitter and stronger and, like Vunipola, was hugely prominent around the pitch, always making good ground with the ball as well as being incredibly strong defensively. Of the others, debutant Sam Underhill was strong in the tackle yet had little opportunity with ball in hand so could not be properly judged; George Ford had an accomplished match at fly half and Anthony Watson looked sharp albeit even he threw a wild pass when in a good position. There was also just time for a gorgeous cameo from Alex Lozowski, who is incredibly talented and looks the real deal.
For the others, it was all a little lacklustre and there must be concerns about the ongoing selection of both George Kruis and Jonathon Joseph, who both seem to still be feeling the effects of a disappointing Lions Tour and seem to playing without any confidence.
Fittingly perhaps, it was Hughes who scored the first England try, his first in international rugby, a devastating finish after being freed by a delicious long pass off his left hand by Ford.
England’s only other try was scored in similar circumstances, only this time it was Henrry Slade’s long lofted pass, which did look suspiciously forward, that was finished off comfortably and with ease by replacement wing Semesi Rokoduguni.
At 21-3 the game was well and truly over but at the death thr Argentinians finally seemed to wake from their slumber and after about 38 phases of play, Nicolas Sanchez expertly finished in the corner. It was a wonder why he did not actually the start the match.
Overall Jones will reflect on a solid victory but a performance that lacked pace and purpose. In some ways England were brought down to the level at which their opponents were playing but that can be no real excuse. It was all somewhat turgid and lacking in ideas, creativity and dynamism but it must be remembered that it was only the first game of the autumn series. It was well choreographed that preparation time had been limited and furthermore, even this was affected by the multitude of injuries being carried by the squad.
So for now it’s back to the classroom for the England boys and a hard week of preparation. It is likely that Australia will face a far more purposeful England team next week. That could be some match.