Need for speed and Porter’s time to shine – England versus Japan talking points

England are looking to bounce back from their 30-29 defeat by Argentina that opened the autumn in disappointing fashion when they host Japan at Twickenham on Saturday.

Here the PA news agency looks at five talking points heading into the second of this month’s four fixtures.

The need for speed

England have made five changes to their starting XV and in doing so have injected much needed pace into the team. With Japan retaining their high-tempo gameplan intended to keep the ball alive and minimise rucks, Eddie Jones has brought in number eight Sam Simmonds, scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet, centre Guy Porter and wing Jonny May in place of Billy Vunipola, Ben Youngs, Manu Tuilagi and Joe Cokanasiga. The changes should provide extra zip required to combat the waves of attacks expected from the Brave Blossoms, although at some cost of ball carrying potency.

Porter’s time to shine

Guy Porter has replaced Manu Tuilagi at outside centre
Guy Porter, pictured, has replaced Manu Tuilagi at outside centre (Will Matthews/PA)

Had it been the All Blacks visiting Twickenham this weekend, Tuilagi would have started but the powerful Sale centre’s workload is being managed carefully because of his extensive injury history. Instead, Jones has turned to Porter to provide the hard yards in midfield and the 25-year-old must deliver after two disappointing displays in Australia in July, particularly in the third Test in Sydney where he was fortunate to reach half-time without being replaced. The Australian-born Leicester back has Jones’ favour for now, but with Ollie Lawrence shredding defences for Bath now is the time to show he can be a force for England.

Must. Stop. Thinking

Owen Farrell says England have been guilty of overthinking
Owen Farrell says England have been guilty of overthinking (Ben Whitley/PA)

Owen Farrell has diagnosed the problem that inhibited England’s attack against Argentina – overthinking. Farrell said that “we want to free ourselves up” and “not worry too much about making a mistake”, revealing an important insight into the psychological hurdle that is preventing the team from igniting with the ball in hands. There were moments of endeavour against the Pumas, but they were too infrequent with little end product. While Japan are a live threat, they will also provide opportunities in defence that England must exploit to sharpen the blade ahead of stiffer tests against New Zealand and South Africa.

Black Hole Game

Alex Lozowski (right) saw England career ended by Eddie Jones (left) after the 2018 match against Japan
Alex Lozowski saw his England career ended by Eddie Jones after the 2018 match against Japan (Adam Davy/PA)

England freely admit they underestimated Japan the last time they met in 2018 and the consequences for some were dire. Alex Lozowski failed to tackle Ryoto Nakamura and was never picked again, Zach Mercer made the second of his two Test appearances, Danny Care was sent into international exile for four years and a week later Alec Hepburn had played his last game for Jones. Tempers flared at half-time of what came to be known among players as the ‘Black Hole Game’ because of its fallout on personnel. A 15-10 interval deficit was eventually overturned, but the damage had already been done to several careers.

Eddie’s legacy

As 2018 illustrated, Japan is a fixture laced with danger and no man has done more to secure the Brave Blossoms a place at the game’s top table than Jones himself. He rescued a nation that was on the descent to rugby oblivion with a stellar 2015 World Cup that included a stunning upset of mighty South Africa amid an unprecedented three wins in the group phase. Four years later and current head coach Jamie Joseph had built on that success by steering hosts Japan into the quarter-finals for the first time, employing a swashbuckling style that made them everyone’s second favourite team. Joseph has since refined their gameplan, tempering their exuberance with some harder edges.