Eddie Jones said in the week that only 31 players in English rugby history had been truly “great” and that he wanted players in his squad who wanted that title for themselves. He fielded a changed team, yes, but there was nothing to suggest this game was being treated as ‘only Fiji’.
The £75,000 ‘goodwill gesture’ by the RFU was as good as it got for the Pacific Islanders as Jones’ ruthless backs tore apart their Fijian guests, but were still hit with 12 minutes of defensive home truths.
The triumvirate of Ben Youngs, George Ford and Owen Farrell were joined in the backline by speed demons Elliot Daly – who had moved from centre to the wing – Jonathan Joseph, Semesa Rokoduguni and Alex Goode. The quartet all needed to take their chances in order to make a claim to be a permanent fixture in Jones, so-far, invincibles.
There wasn’t a whole lot of defending for them to do in the opening stages, as Daly and Joseph linked and switched positions seamlessly when in and out of possession, with Jones’ decision to play Daly out wide making more and more sense with each pass.
It only took three and a half minutes for the backline to show Jones they were taking this game every inch as seriously as Jones insisted he was in his pre-match press conference. Joseph, who lost his place to Daly for the thumping of South Africa last week, making a neat run off the shoulder of Farrell to finish from close range.
Daly followed suit soon after good work from Rokoduguni and Chris Robshaw for his first try in international rugby.
Rokoduguni’s try – England’s third in 13 minutes – was a celebration of all the good work the back line had done, with Ford, Daly and Goode all involved before finally the Fijian-born winger crossed the whitewash.
However, while the attacking display was close to perfect, the meticulous Jones would have been unlikely to be wearing his rare smile as the sides walked in for half time after some sloppy defending allowed first Nemani Nadolo and then Leone Nakawarato cross in the final eight minutes of the 40.
While Goode was impressive on the whole, it is clear to see why Jones has resisted the urge to bring him in ahead of Mike Brown in the games that have mattered. Brown’s presence in defence was missed as the Fijians bounced off tacklers to gain yards which shouldn’t have been available.
Even the normally touch-tacking Farrell looked out of sorts when heh had defending to do.
The three tries conceded by England matches their worst defensive showings under Jones on home soil. Far from making Twickenham the intimidating fortress that doesn’t give you anything that he has so often called for it to be.
Following the 12 minutes where Fiji ran in three scores, England were back to their first-quarter best and praying on the mistakes of the visitors. Joseph got his second, as did Rokoduguni, while Daly was impressive coming off the wing and using lightening pace to expose defenders.
Jones was looking for greatness from his players and while he found eagerness and ruthlessness from his players as he looks to build a squad rather than a team, the defence will be a concern, with his native Australia visiting Twickenham in only two weeks.
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