Jones ready to take on Argentina scrum
England coach names his strongest side for the clash against the Pumas
Tokyo — Eddie Jones expects to take the battle to Argentina in the scrum in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup pool C match as England prepare to get serious in their bid to claim a second Webb Ellis trophy.
England have made a perfect start to the tournament with bonus points wins over Tonga and the US to top the pool but now face their first tier-one opposition in the Pumas. After mixing and matching in the warm-ups and first two matches of the tournament, Jones has named his strongest side for the Tokyo Stadium clash against the twice World Cup semi-finalists.
They come up against an Argentina side in urgent need of a win to keep their World Cup dreams alive, having lost to France on the opening weekend.
Coached by former world-class hooker Mario Ledesma, Argentina have tried to make their once formidable scrum a weapon again.
Ledesma has made fixing problems up front a World Cup priority ever since Argentina conceded three tries from scrums in a 28-17 loss to Ireland in Dublin in November 2018. However, Jones is keen to take the Pumas on at their own game.
“It will be a massive Test on Saturday and they haven’t scrummed against us yet,” Jones said in Tokyo on Thursday. “We believe our scrum can be a real weapon for us so hold onto your seats.”
England’s scrum will be aided by the return from injury of prop Mako Vunipola, albeit on the bench. Loose head Vunipola had surgery after tearing his hamstring from the bone in early May and has played just 17 minutes of rugby since with a brief cameo against Ireland in which he tore the scar tissue.
England will be keen to avoid any aggravation of the injury on Saturday so Joe Marler retains the No 1 shirt with Vunipola likely to come on in the second half. Other than that, England will look to bed down key combinations for the campaign ahead, with their final pool match against France and, they expect, the knockout stages to come.
George Ford and captain Owen Farrell reprise the twin playmaker combination at flyhalf and inside centre respectively, with Manu Tuilagi offering physicality at outside centre.
Maro Itoje and George Kruis line up in the second row together for the first time this tournament, while the back row combines the mobility of flankers Sam Underhill and Tom Curry with the power of Mako’s brother Billy Vunipola.
Jones admitted back-row selection had been one of his toughest decisions.
“We have got four quality backrowers there, all competing for a sport,” said the Australian. “Curry and Underhill, particularly given the conditions, we say will be useful in terms of the contest at the breakdown.
“[Lewis] Ludlam has just impressed us in the World Cup with his energy, his enthusiasm but Mark Wilson is unlucky not to get selected.”
Ben Youngs returns at scrumhalf, while the back three of fullback Elliot Daly and wingers Anthony Watson and Jonny May will offer plenty of threat on the counterattack if Argentina get their kicking game wrong.
Winger Jack Nowell will offer cover from the bench as he is also eased back into action after an angle ligament problem that has sidelined him since the start of June.
“Compared to the last game we played in we have a lot more time to prepare,” said Farrell. “So, we are looking forward to it now. There has been a longer build-up to this game, everybody is fresh, everybody is fit and everybody can’t wait to play.”
After Argentina, England will have a week to prepare for a potentially decisive final pool C match against France.
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