England v Japan is just as important as the other three games in the autumn series. After a hugely promising performance in defeat against the All Blacks, England will know that the expectations will be high for the visit of Japan. The Cherry Blossoms are improving and have a wily coach in the form of Jamie Joseph who will lap up the light hearted barbs that Eddie Jones has been firing this last week. The Japanese have nothing to lose and everything to gain so England beware.
Mass changes as Jones tests his squad
Eddie Jones is not normally a coach who makes mass changes (injuries permitting) in an autumn series but for the Japan clash there are 11 personnel changes. The most exciting are the inclusions of the Bath duo, Joe Cokanasiga and Zak Mercer. These two have the x-factor ability to offer England something different, Cokanasiga with his sheer size and power, for Mercer, his footwork and pace. If England are to have a chance of lifting the William Webb Ellis trophy next year, then they will need players who can turn a game on it’s head with one piece of skill. These two Bath boys potentially have that capacity.
There would have been a strong argument for England to keep the majority of the team intact to ensure consistency in selection and to solidify combinations, but such has been the intensity of the Springbok and All Black clashes, this is an understandable move by Jones.
In a World Cup year, Jones has to see who can make the grade as he prepares to finalise his squad and Saturday provides the perfect opportunity to see some of the younger guns in action.
England’s attacking edge in the spotlight
Against New Zealand last week, England improved so many facets of their game in dreadful conditions at Twickenham. The pack’s performance in the first fourty minutes was as good a display as we have seen probably since the 2012 win over the All Blacks. The intensity levels and line speed shocked Kieran Read’s men and they could not live with it during the first half. The way the last two weekends have panned out, the focus has been on the forwards and not the backs as much. Partly through the weather and equally through the types of game that have materialised. Therefore England’s attack will come under scrutiny, especially as the weather around Twickenham is predicted to be sunny on Saturday.
Ford the man to unleash England’s attacking threat
George Ford has had a tough 12 months in both the Tiger’s and England jerseys, but his form in the Premiership this season has been good. At his best Ford can fling a pass that no other fly half can do, save for perhaps Beauden Barrett. When Ford takes it to the line to bring out the pop pass or his ability to fire out a thirty yard pass to his wingers, he is truly one of the best in the world. On the international stage, we have seen this all too rarely and therefore Saturday shapes up to be an important day for Ford, given that it is his 50th cap and first as captain. Ford will have Alex Lozowski and Jack Nowell as his centre partners who could complement his range of passing to perfection.
Lozowski and Nowell an exciting centre combination
Lozowski has been knocking on the door for the last couple of seasons and is a carbon clone of his Saracens mentor Owen Farrell. Like Farrell, Lozowski loves making the big hit whether it be on a backrower or a back. He also cuts excellent running lines and his distribution is improving all the time. As for Nowell, he has always performed when given a centre birth for the Exeter Chiefs. Nowell has that uncanny ability to wriggle over the gain line and will pose a big threat to the Japanese with his pace. Chris Ashton, Joe Cokanasiga and Elliot Daly could have a field day with this England 10/12/13 combo in place.
England must not underestimate the Japanese
Despite the banter that Eddie Jones has been dishing out this week on the Cherry Blossoms, Jones knows the slaying of a heavyweight better than anyone having masterminded Japan’s famous win over the mighty Springboks in the 2015 World Cup. South Africa with their massive pack thought they could roll over their more lightweight Japanese counterparts so they concentrated too hard on going through them and as result neglected their backs as well as inviting Japan in to play to their strengths. England by all accounts have similar intentions to thunder through the Cherry Blossoms this weekend. The Japanese are fit and will tackle all day long and they can also score tries as the All Blacks found out in Tokyo recently when conceding five. They are dangerous and cannot be underestimated.
More of the same please
From an English perspective, they now know the pace and intensity that was on display against the All Blacks will beat most teams in the world. The challenge is to replicate it against different types of opposition. Japan may not have a huge pack but the entire team is highly skillful and energetic. This is a different kind of challenge which England have not faced for some time. Jones will be hoping that England’s forwards find the same controlled ferocity as they did last weekend which in turn will create the platform for England’s underused backs to show off their talents.
Whether Jones and England downplay it or not, they will be expected to comfortably beat the Japanese before moving on to the sizable objective of the Wallabies to round off their autumn campaign next weekend.
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