Eddie Jones was relieved to see England avoid a repeat of their Welsh “psycho horror movie” after earning a hard-fought 24-13 victory at the Parc y Scarlets to secure their place in the Autumn Nations Cup final.
The Six Nations champions fought back from going behind early on through Johnny Williams’s try to lead 11-7 at half-time thanks to Henry Slade’s effort, and though Wales threatened a comeback through two second-half penalties from Dan Biggar, a Mako Vunipola try and the boot of captain Owen Farrell secured a seventh consecutive victory this year.
But the fact that Wales were still well in the contest at the halfway stage triggered memories in Jones’s mind of their 2019 trip to Cardiff, where a superior first half unravelled into a defeat that cost them a Six Nations title.
“We've learned a lot in 12 months,” a relieved Jones said in Llanelli. “At half-time it could have been a psycho horror movie. The woman goes to the shower and you know what's coming from behind the shower curtain.
“It was the exact same situation as the game in the Principality Stadium where we did most of the play in the first and were slightly ahead. Wales did a few things at the end of the first half to put us off our game and then we had a choice at half-time of how we would react.
“Would we allow them to continue to do that or do we stick to our game? The boys showed really good tactical discipline to stick to our game. We had one little wonky period for around 10 minutes in the second-half but generally we had game control so I was really pleased about that.”
Biggar’s two penalties closed the gap to five points after Vunipola’s first international try in six years, but England managed to regain the upper hand to force a Wales side that has now lost seven of their eight games this calendar year to cough up a flurry of penalties late on. Farrell kicked two of three late efforts at goal to take the game away from the hosts, but despite the victory Jones was not completely satisfied in what appeared to be an acceptance that they are not quite firing on all cylinders.
"It was like a bit of an arm-wrestle,” he added. "It was a tough old game and we really haven't accelerated our rugby as we would have liked to, so we have one more opportunity.
“We'd like to play with a little more fluency but it's just not there at the moment. Certainly I'm really pleased with the boys' effort. Their work today was outstanding.
“We want a bit more fluency with the ball in hand and we'd like to play a bit more with some precision and fluency but we're not quite there yet. We've got one week to do it so it's going to be a good week.”
The win ensured that their final match of 2020 at Twickenham next Sunday will be for full bragging rights in the Autumn Nations Cup, where for the first time in nine months they will be performing in front of an audience.
The government’s relaxation of lockdown restrictions has allowed the Rugby Football Union to sell 2,000 tickets for the final with 400 of those going to NHS staff and key workers as a thank you for their efforts in 2020, and Jones admitted that the national team face a challenge in making their trip to Twickenham worthwhile.
“For us it’s more of a chance to get better again,” he added. “We don’t feel like we’ve played our best rugby yet so it’s our last game, it’s our grand final of 2020 and we want to make sure we put on our best performance.
“We want to make sure we put on a performance that lights up people’s eyes when they sit there and they look at the team, and they want to be part of the team. That’s the challenge next weekend, give the boys a short break and then we’ll rip into it next week and have a great preparation to be ready to go.”
This weekend get a £10 free bet with Betfair, when you bet £10 on a Same Game Multi on the Premier League. Terms: Min £10 Same Game Multi bet on any EPL match this Fri - Sun. Free bet valid for 72 hours, awarded at bet settlement. Excludes cashed out bets. T&Cs apply.