Ollie Phillips: Pace on the menu as Eddie Jones tweaks England recipe against Japan
England’s team selection for tomorrow’s match against Japan tells you that Eddie Jones wants much more pace in his side.
They looked lacklustre when losing 30-29 to Argentina in their opening Autumn Nations Series fixture last weekend but the inclusion of Jack van Poortvliet and Sam Simmons in the starting XV should add much-needed tempo.
I’d like to see more creativity and imagination in attack, where England looked clunky against the Pumas.
That isn’t going to change overnight but the inclusion of scrum-half Van Poortvliet, who impressed off the bench, and Simmonds at No8 should help get the ball to Marcus Smith more quickly and liberate the fly-half.
England will also need to be tighter defensively; they can’t leak 30 points again.
Japan will have been buoyed by a very good performance against the All Blacks last month and will be sniffing an upset against their old coach Jones. They play with a lot of pace and will try to keep the ball alive, which will be the hosts’ biggest concern.
Smith’s relationship with captain Owen Farrell at inside-centre is yet to ignite but they have only played together a handful of times. It can and should work but needs time so let’s suffer some short-term pain now for long-term gain.
Smith and Farrell also need to get used to playing alongside Manu Tuilagi, so it’s interesting to see him replaced by Guy Porter. That may be Jones managing Tuilagi’s return to the fold a little, but Porter is also another who will make England faster around the field.
England weren’t awful last week and only lost by one point but, less than a year out from a World Cup, a team that wants to win the tournament has to nail teams like Argentina – and the same goes for Japan.
That was a fifth defeat in eight games this year, which will worry England chiefs. But there is not much they can do. It was a similar pattern before the last World Cup, where Jones pulled it out of the bag and they only came unstuck in the final.
The danger is that teams like Ireland and France look so much better. Typically, England could have a dodgy autumn and rely on building momentum at the Six Nations, but right now they would get a pounding.
Scotland have some Finn to cheer about
I’m fascinated to see how Scotland get on with Finn Russell back in from the cold when New Zealand visit Murrayfield on Sunday.
The way Gregor Townsend’s team have been playing, I think they could cause an upset against the All Blacks, who have looked pretty average lately.
They came so close against Australia last month and I think they can go one better if they draw on the creativity and superior kicking ability of Russell.
England women set for Lionesses moment
Women’s rugby in England could have its Lionesses moment on Saturday when the Red Roses face New Zealand in the World Cup final.
They may have won the tournament before but this would be more poignant given the recent explosion in women’s sport.
I’m desperate for England to beat the Black Ferns like they did a few months ago but this is a very different side and this time the match is at a sold-out Eden Park.
If the Red Roses can strangle the game, use their forwards and draw on their experience, I think they will give us another massive moment.
Opportunity knocks in the Premiership
A hugely entertaining Premiership season continues this weekend, with international absences increasing the chance of upsets.
If Bath are going to beat Leicester or Northampton win at Saracens then this is the time, although I don’t think they will.
London Irish have a better chance at Exeter, while I fancy Gloucester to continue their fine campaign against Newcastle.
China Sevens head coach Ollie Phillips is the founder of Optimist Performance, experts in leadership development and behavioural change. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn.