Eddie Jones may have lashed out at referee Ben O’Keeffe’s decision to send off Manu Tuilagi, but the player himself had no qualms after becoming the sixth England player to be sent off in an international.
The head coach risked disciplinary action by criticising O’Keeffe’s performance in the middle following the 33-30 win over Wales, claiming that his decision to send Tuilagi off for a shoulder charge to the head of Wales wing George North was “a load of rubbish” and that on the whole he was on the Welsh side of the line.
With Tuilagi facing certain action and Jones also risking a rap on the knuckles, England’s ill-discipline very nearly got the better of them that would have transformed a dominant performance into a rather stunning defeat at Twickenham. England will also have the Joe Marler incident involving Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones and a rather unnecessary “grab” to the lock’s private area to sweat over, though with no internationals now scheduled until the summer, Marler and Harlequins will bear the brunt of any punishment.
Jones’s anger with Tuilagi’s dismissal was made so apparent after the 33-30 victory due to his breakaway from not criticising referees in press conferences, but man-of-the-match Ben Youngs revealed after that the players had little to argue in seeing their most dangerous weapon sent off.
“It’s one of those, refs give it,” Youngs said. “At the end of the day you are looking after players and if that was me getting tackled I’d want to be looked after. If that’s in the interpretation that’s fine.
“I don’t and Manu doesn’t have any qualms with it. It’s how it is. It was good to see George (North) get back on his feet straight away and he seemed to be fine. Manu coming steaming across, he gets it slightly wrong and we suffer the repercussions of it.”
With Tuilagi joining Ellis Genge off the field after the replacement loosehead prop was sin-binned as a result of England’s mounting indiscretions on their own line – four in quick succession as Charlie Ewels, Maro Itoje and an offside were all penalised before Genge was judged to have crept around the fringe in an effort to stop Wales scoring.
Three minutes later, Tuilagi had conceded a fifth penalty in quick succession and received his marching orders, with England alarmingly hitting double figures with their total penalty count, yet somewhat strangely they did not seem overly fussed about the second half disciplinary meltdown.
“There is no one sitting in there saying ‘oh my goodness what happened in the last 10?’ said Youngs. “It’s pretty obvious what happened. We defended unbelievably well and were stuck in own half for 15 minutes and then got a red card. We then get the ball back from the scrum, get held up, their scrum, we’ve got no centre, no back-rower because he’s had to come off for a prop and it’s one of those when you’re left with 13 men against a Welsh team that spread the ball it can end up how it did. It should not tarnish what felt like a dominant display.
“I just don’t think we’ve ever really put our best performance out against Wales. Today we were able to show – in stages – the best of us. When we did that they certainly couldn’t cope with us. From our point of view we want to be more consistent at turning up with the mindset to go at teams and bring that physicality. That’s such a weapon of ours – being physical with the forwards, and the platform they bring. It’s not the easiest thing to bring every week, but something we continue to work on to make that a baseline for us.”
Given the difference in performance between England’s first-half display and the final 15 minutes – as well as the first 23 seconds following the restart as Justin Tipuric finished a try-of-the-championship contender – it seemed somewhat overlooked that England very nearly lost this match. The dominance they possessed certainly justified a 33-16 scoreline, which made it all the more stunning that Wales would manage to get within three points of Jones’s side. Had England found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, the blowback would have been hugely different, with England missing out on the Triple Crown while seeing their championship hopes ended for good, yet right now all Jones cares about is winning.
“It’s important to win at home but it’s important to win everywhere,” said Jones. “We don’t want to be that team that just wins at Twickenham. That’s our goal. We’re not there at the moment but we believe we’ve made some strides this tournament and we’re in a positive direction.
“Over the last 12 months we’ve won at 80 per cent. That means we’ve lost 20 per cent of our games. I don’t think that’s a major issue but we’ve just got to play a little bit better away from home.”
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