Taking the draw & importance of finishers – Jones following All Blacks draw

Eddie Jones' team were 19 points down at one stage in their 25-25 draw with New Zealand
©INPHO/Billy Stickland

At half-time in England’s game against New Zealand on Saturday afternoon, Eddie Jones certainly had plenty of questions facing him.

His team were 17-3 down, the All Blacks scoring tries through Dalton Papali’i and Codie Taylor, while Jordie Barrett kicked a penalty to end the half. 

In opposition England had offered little in return, Ian Foster’s All Blacks good value for their lead and showing no signs of slowing down.

When England re-emerged from the tunnel at Twickenham, it certainly took them some time to gain their footing in the contest.

Following a torrid first 40 minutes, Jack van Poortvliet was replaced by his more experienced Leicester Tigers teammate Ben Youngs, the youngster having been targeted by New Zealand from the very first whistle.

Marcus Smith would slot a penalty, although the home team would be pegged back by a mesmeric Rieko Ioane try and shortly after Beauden Barrett’s drop goal, England got the ball rolling.

With Barrett sent to the sinbin, England would score twice through replacement prop Will Stuart and once through full-back Freddie Steward.

England’s exploits in the final 10 minutes would mean that the Test would finish 25-25, the home side receiving the ball after Smith’s conversion levelled things. 

Still with the player advantage, Jones says that his team have trained for that sort of scenario but made the on-field decision to take a result after having been 19 points down at one stage.

“We have, but there are a number of different circumstances in there,” Jones said. “It’s easy to make a decision on the side line, but the players understood that Raynal was penalising very heavily the attacking ruck.

“He’s got an exceptionally high penalty count against the attacking ruck so if we didn’t get a go-forward kick reception, the players made the decision to not put any money on the table, pick up and leave.

“I don’t have any qualms with the decision they made.”

With draws such a rarity in rugby in general, it often leaves a general feeling of flatness, especially with the drama of the game’s final act played out at Twickenham.

Unlike New Zealand, England still have one more match to come. Playing a game outside of World Rugby’s Test window is a rarity for Jones’ team and in South Africa, they have an intriguing opponent.

In their Autumn Nations Series game, the Springboks have been in the eye of a storm centred around their Director of Rugby, Rassie Erasmus, once again.

Following a series of tweets that seemingly were directed towards matchday officials, World Rugby banned the 50-year-old for two games, meaning the DoR was not able to be involved in the Test against Italy or England.

South Africa did get back to winning ways on Saturday in Genoa by beating an impressive Italy side 63-21, their first win in the Northern Hemisphere after losses to Ireland and France.

It will be a vastly different looking South Africa too. With the game being played outside of the Test window, the likes of Vincent Koch, Cheslin Kolbe and Cobus Reinach will all have returned to their clubs.

Even without some of that extra stardust that ply their trade in Europe, the Springboks are going to be the sternest of challenges and will offer a physical challenge next weekend.

When asked about potential changes for Jacques Nienaber’s side, Jones says “we will probably need three jumpers against South Africa”, the Australian clearly looking to return to the mindset he had against Argentina and Japan before moving Maro Itoje back to lock.

Should the 28-year-old be restored to the back-row, David Ribbans certainly indicated that he’s a capable pair of hands in the second-row after his performance from the bench against New Zealand.

Throwing an outstanding offload in the build-up to Freddie Steward’s try, Jones was extremely pleased with how his ‘finishers’ were able to have such a significant impact on the game.

“Our finishers were outstanding and that’s why we talk about them as finishers,” Jones said. “We’ve got 23 guys, there is no difference between starting and finishing.

“When I name it, I just name it as a 23 and then they work out what role they have later in the week. Simple as that.

“You just can talk about Ribbans’ hat being in the ring and the hat becomes either a starting hat or a finishing hat and if you’re 24th or 25th, you’re a supporting hat.”

England’s Autumn Nations Series was designed to test them to the fullest. To say it has done that is putting it mildly. 

By playing Japan and Argentina, Jones’ side played two of the sides they will be grouped with and two of the world’s best in New Zealand and South Africa, it has been a gauntlet to run.

How this next week goes will set the tone for England going into 2023. Finishing the autumn with wins over South Africa and Japan, a loss to Argentina and a draw with the All Blacks, then England are hot stuff.

Should they close out this month with a loss, then those tea leaves are a touch more difficult to decipher. Whatever the case, this is the week that sets that decides it all.