Although Lions coach Warren Gatland appears to be giving England’s touring squad the cold shoulder due to geographical factors, Eddie Jones is rightly proud of his young players. Tonight they go into battle once more against an experienced and talented Argentina side – here are five reasons why you cannot miss the match.
1) The first test was tremendously exciting
It’s fair to say most fans and pundits expected the game to go two ways: a Pumas squad made up of Jaguares playing week-in-week-out with each other in the Super Rugby competition would wipe the floor with this collection of second stringers and youthful upstarts, or England would defend their way to a close-fought defeat.
Yet instead we were treated to a feast of attacking intent and fluent exuberance from both sides that created quite some test match.
Argentina have always relied on a powerful pack and a dominant scrum, but their transition into southern hemisphere-style running lines and apparently inherent awareness means they are now packed to the rafters with players capable of conjuring something from nothing.
Likewise, England’s newest generation of players have come through an academy system that is now rewarding skills rather than just size, and with each subsequent age grade team the clubs are working with the RFU to unearth more and more genuine gems.
With the two sides going at each other once more, it promises to be another special game.
2) Eddie Jones has changed a winning team and it makes sense
Mark Wilson did a fantastic job alongside 18 year old Tom Curry, but the uncapped duo make way for older head Chris Robshaw and highly-rated Bath signing Sam Underhill.
Some will see it as harsh on a pair that couldn’t have been asked to do more, but Jones now has a chance to see if a 6/7/8 combination of Robshaw, Underhill and Hughes could work at test level. With the Australian likely to rest many of his Lions stars in the autumn, could this be the trio that take the men in white forward for their November tests?
Alex Lozowski is another player with a bright future, but he makes way for Northampton Saints-bound Piers Francis. Given the impact the latter made off the bench with his natural awareness and his silky handling skills – watch that George Ford score again – the 26 year old who made his name in the Super Rugby competition for the Blues might be a surprise World Cup squad inclusion in two years’ time.
3) The Lions outcasts have a chance to impress
With Lions coach Gatland apparently prioritising geographical proximity over playing credentials, England’s Joe Launchbury can rightfully feel aggrieved at his continued exclusion from the squad in New Zealand, but the Wasps second row has an opportunity to show Gatland exactly what he is missing.
The lock was fantastic last week and can send the Lions’ coaches a clear message with another towering performance against an equally impressive Argentina side.
Similarly, with Chris Robshaw back in the team and Danny Care and George Ford orchestrating the back division from 9 and 10, a number of individuals have the chance to persuade those in the land of the long white cloud that they’ve made selection mistakes before the test series starts.
4) Argentina will be desperate for revenge
The Pumas have made no secret of their desire to be one of the best teams in the world, and a loss to an England team featuring seven uncapped players in its 23 from last week will smart.
With Argentina’s Rugby Championship campaign kicking off in a few months’ time, the home team only have one more match against Georgia next weekend to gel before they face South Africa on 19th August. Daniel Hourcade will not want his side suffering a 2 – 0 test series defeat before then, so it is crucial for them to get a ‘W’ before the match against the Springboks.
Be prepared for a side firing on all cylinders and a match of real intensity.
5) The young guns want to keep their shirts
On the other side, should England walk away with a 2 – 0 victory then a number of Lions might genuinely be worried about keeping their shirts come the Six Nations next year. Can James Haskell or Tom Wood continue to start at seven if the likes of the Curry brothers and Underhill have performed so well?
Ben Te’o has been superb for England in his brief international career so far and rightly got a call up to New Zealand, but with Alex Lozowski, Henry Slade, Piers Francis and Owen Farrell all available at 12 – not to mention the injured Manu Tuilagi – then he will be under immense pressure.
England are reaching a point now where their young players are confident enough to take the step up from age grade rugby and slot in to Premiership and international level without too much of a disparity. It is such an exciting time to be a fan of the men in white and with increasing depth in all positions selection for 2019 will be the toughest yet.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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