Twickenham: England coach Eddie Jones could not resist building up to Saturday’s international at home to Argentina by taking a side-swipe at his native Australia.
Jones’s praise for the Pumas, who will be aiming to bring his team’s 12-match winning run to an end, appeared to be an early shot across Wallaby bows ahead of their Twickenham clash with England on December 3.
Not that the wily Jones will care if his comments that Argentina “were the second-best team in the Rugby Championship” have upset Australia, whose bid for a tour Grand Slam of wins over the ‘Home Nations’ continues against Ireland on Saturday.
Argentina managed just one victory and finished bottom of the Rugby Championship table, with South Africa (third) and Australia (second) above them in a tournament dominated by world champions New Zealand.
And the Pumas arrive at Twickenham on the back of narrow defeats by both Wales and Scotland.
But Jones, bracing himself for a Wallaby revenge mission following England’s 3-0 Test series victory in Australia in June, does not want his side to be “complacent” against Argentina.
“Argentina were probably the second-best side in the Rugby Championship,” said Jones.
“That’s because of the quality of rugby they played. Any team that stretches the All Blacks for 50 minutes is a really good team.
“They dropped off towards the end of the Championship and they probably had some fatigue. But fatigue tends to go out the window when you know you’re going back to a six-week holiday because this is their last game.
“They are very physical guys who want to take you on in the maul and breakdown.
“We know that is coming. But if there’s any complacency from us they will be all over us like a rash,” insisted Jones.
He added that Argentina would also have the “massive motivation” of trying to improve their ranking ahead of next year’s pool draw for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Jones has made four changes to the side which ran in nine tries in the 58-15 thrashing of Fiji.
Jonny May takes over on the right wing from last weekend’s man of the match hero Semesa Rokoduguni, who misses out altogether.
Full-back Mike Brown also returns while lock George Kruis has recovered from ankle surgery to replace the suspended Joe Launchbury in a pack featuring back-row Tom Wood.
‘No greats since Wilkinson’
Meanwhile Jones insisted England had not produced a world-class player since Jonny Wilkinson retired, although several of the current squad were well on their way to such exalted status.
“Since 2003 there’s been only one world-class player produced and that’s Jonny Wilkinson,” said Jones, coach of the Australia side beaten in the 2003 World Cup final by the England fly-half great’s last-ditch drop-goal.
“There hasn’t been the desire here from the players to really push themselves to be great,” explained the former Japan coach, who succeeded Stuart Lancaster as England boss a year ago.
Jones’s move to make Dylan Hartley captain, despite the hooker’s appalling disciplinary record, has been a success so far, as has his less publicised decision to appoint Mike Brown, Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola as vice-captains.
“We’ve got three or four guys now who will always do the right thing and another five or six on the footsteps of always doing the right thing,” said Jones.
“We’ve got guys starting to perform to eight out of 10, every game and when you do that you start to become world-class.”
Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade, who will deploy the gifted Juan Martin Hernandez at fly-half in the absence of the injured Nicolas Sanchez, was well aware of the task facing the Pumas.
“England has a great team right now, and they are just behind New Zealand in the rankings,” he said. “To beat them would be a great way to end the year. We must believe we can do that.”
Fixtures from the Test matches on Saturday, November 26 (Kick-offs UAE time):
Italy v Tonga 6pm
England v Argentina 6.30pm
Scotland v Georgia 6.30pm
Ireland v Australia 9.30pm
Wales v South Africa 9.30pm
France v New Zealand midnight