Two members of the England pack who broke the Australians at Twickenham last weekend and ended the tourists’ attempt at a Grand Slam at a mercifully early stage – a Wallaby side this poor had no right to imagine a clean sweep, let alone challenge for one – were missing from training at the team base in Surrey on Monday. The loose-head prop Mako Vunipola and the flanker Tom Wood were granted a lie-in, the former because of minor knee trouble and the latter for “load management” reasons.
What they did not miss, according to a startling statistic produced by the head coach, Stuart Lancaster, and his back-room staff, was a single tackle against the Australians. The same went for every other member of the forward unit.
No one quite knew if this had ever happened before, and Lancaster did not much care. He was not in the mood for historical study, despite the looming anniversary of the World Cup triumph in 2003.
“It’s in the past,” he said, when asked if the presence of Sir Clive Woodward and his team of a decade ago had contributed to this latest victory over the Wallabies. “We should celebrate it, but it has no bearing on what we’re doing now. Not as far as I’m concerned, anyway.
“What we focused on was operating at Test intensity at the breakdown, at the scrum and in defence. We did that. We made a pretty potent Wallaby back line struggle, to the extent that they kicked a lot of ball.”
Lancaster has not convinced everyone that this England side is on the right track – least of all Woodward, judging by his musings in the popular prints – but again, this seemed unlikely to keep him awake at night. “It’s hard to get that really deep-seated cohesion and understanding when you first come together as a squad, and that was the first time we’d been together properly since March,” he said.
“I won’t start making grand statements about our performance, but as coaches we were pleased with it, especially up front. When you look at the physicality-pace-power equation of a young pack, there’s a lot to build on.”
The coach credited his captain, the Harlequins flanker Chris Robshaw, with turning in one of his best displays in an England shirt. “He was our top tackler… again,” Lancaster confirmed. “Sixteen tackles, no misses. I think the break over the summer did him good. He’s come back refreshed.”
Lancaster also gave the fresh-faced Wasps lock Joe Launchbury a mention in dispatches. “What he showed against Australia is just how mobile he is for a big man,” the coach commented. “When you study his breakdown work in detail, it was very impressive. He had a point to prove.”
As did Billy Twelvetrees, the inside centre from Gloucester, and in many eyes he was rather less successful in making his mark. Lancaster indicated that Twelvetrees would hold his place against Argentina on Saturday, however. “Billy is a bit disappointed with a couple of areas, but he was good in a lot of others,” he said. “We didn’t get many start-up plays off the set pieces because of the way the game unfolded and, as a result, there wasn’t a huge amount of opportunity for the midfielders. He deserves another chance, I think.”
There is unlikely to be more than a couple of changes to the starting line-up for the meeting with the South Americans, even though regulars like Geoff Parling, the Leicester lock, and Alex Corbisiero, the Northampton prop, are expected to be fit. Corbisiero may well get a run if he comes through training following another bout of knee hassle.
Juan Manuel Leguizamon, the experienced back-row forward who first came to wider public attention during a Premiership spell with London Irish, will lead the Pumas this weekend. He takes over as captain from the stricken Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, who fractured an elbow while playing for the French club Toulon a little over a week ago.
Speaking of London Irish and the reigning European champions from the Côte d’Azur, the Exiles spent last night inquiring into reports from across the Channel that their new signing, the brilliant Wallaby back James O’Connor, had been spotted at Toulon’s training ground, talking to the owner, Mourad Boudjellal, and the director of recruitment, Laurent Emmanuelli. The Australian made his debut for London Irish on Sunday and has signed a deal taking him through to the end of the season.