Eddie Jones refused to blame the late television match official review that cost England victory against New Zealand as his injury-hit side came within a whisker of beating the reigning world champions at Twickenham.
Sam Underhill’s disallowed try in the 76th minute would likely have won the Quilter International for Jones’ side against the All Blacks, despite England’s lengthy injury list robbing them of a handful of key players for the autumn series.
Yet Twickenham roared with delight when Underhill collected a Courtney Lawes chargedown on TJ Perenara and wrong-footed Beauden Barrett to score in the corner, only for referee Jerome Garces to refer the decision to TMO Marius Jonker. After a lengthy review, Garces directly asked the South African to decide if Lawes was on or offside, despite a new World Rugby trial introduced this weekend that states all four match officials can contribute to the call but that “try scoring should be an on-field decision with the referee being responsible”.
Despite the contentious call, Jones wouldn’t lay the blame on either Garces or Jonker.
“I’ve said it a number of times, I don’t comment on those decisions,” Jones said after the 16-15 defeat. “I leave it up to that guy (Jonker). If he can’t make the right decision with 10 replays then who can?
“Sometimes the game loves you, sometime the game doesn’t love you. You have got to accept that if you stay in the fight long enough, the game will love you. We’re prepared to stay in the fight so we will get some love further down the track, don’t worry.”
Opposite number Steve Hansen didn’t follow Jones’ lead though as he insisted Lawes was a mile offside, with his only fear that the officials would not be “brave enough” to overturn it.
“There was no doubt he [Lawes] was offside,” Hansen said. “He was in the half-back’s pocket. What was going through my mind was whether they [the officials] were going to be brave enough with the decision, and they were.”
All Blacks captain Kieran Read echoed his coach’s thoughts, though that could be seen on the field at the time as he and lock Sam Whitelock led the side to the 10 metre line before Garces had made his decision, be it a sign of their confidence that Lawes was offside or a thinly-veiled attempt to influence the referee.
“I don’t think he was getting influenced by that, he was watching the screens,” Read said. “We all were at that point I guess and as soon as I saw it on the big screen we thought it would be our penalty.”
While bitterly disappointed with the result, which comes as England’s sixth lost this year, Jones was unsurprisingly proud with the performance as his side outscored the All Blacks two tries to one, which comes as a major step forwards in his Rugby World Cup plan.
“We’re obviously devastated but you take the good with the bad and we’ll take a lot from that,” Jones added. “We had opportunities to win the game. We didn’t take them, they did so they deserved to win. Full credit to New Zealand. But it was a good rugby test match tussle that we are only going to improve from.
“It was a really good step forward because you benchmark yourself against New Zealand. They are the best in the world and we will get a lot of reward for the work we’ve done. They’ve been together three months, we have been together three weeks. They had 800 caps, we had 400 caps. But we have to work harder.
“We have got to fix things that didn’t work today and if we do that we are in the way to being the best in the world which we always set out to be.”
England did have one last chance after the disallowed try to go for the win, but having already scored a drop-goal in the first half, Owen Farrell was unable to get into position to go for the win.
“We felt we had the ascendancy at the time,” the England co-captain said. “Our maul had gone very well in the first half and our boys were itching to have a crack at them so we went for it there and then so we backed them.
“I started to drop back into (the pocket) but unfortunately we dropped the ball.”
Having been 15 points down to England inside 24 minutes, Read admitted that his side had to “roll up their sleeves” after being blown off the park early on, though their inability to adjust to the atrocious weather conditions were also to blame.
“It’s about trust and belief,” Read added. “It was about believing in ourselves. we had to roll our sleeves up and we finally got that done. The character of the men to turn it around and get some points before half-time were crucial for us.”
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