George Ford scored 11 of England's 21 pointsGraham Wilson

On Saturday, England started their Autumn Internationals with a 21-8 win against Argentina, their fourth in 12 months. Against a team they will meet in the pool stages of the 2019 World Cup, a win was essential, but the game can fairly be summed up in two words; ‘dull’ and ‘disappointing’. I have never heard Twickenham so eerily quiet.

Having read about the high intensity and fast pace of England’s Portugal training camp, I had high expectations. Against a team which has conceded between 30 and 40 points in most games this season, and with a backline featuring Ford, Slade, Joseph, Watson and Daly, you could have been forgiven for expecting a try-fest. This was anything but.

The score-line sat at 14-3 for most of the game, as England failed to impress. Their first try came after 23 minutes, when Argentina were down to 14 men, and it wasn’t until Alex Lozowski’s introduction on 62 minutes that they created another. Argentina, for their part, were pretty poor, but put together 30 phases in the final few minutes to get a well-earned try of their own.

“Hartley, who actually had one of his better games, tried to get things going around 55 minutes, but his attempt was ultimately futile”

The biggest problem was that the tempo was far too slow. Eddie Jones spoke last week about how he wanted England to speed their game up this season, but here they managed the opposite. From the start, kick-offs weren’t contestable and, rather than taking lineouts, virtually every penalty went to the posts. Hartley, who actually had one of his better games, tried to get things going around 55 minutes, but his attempt was ultimately futile.

A large amount of blame for this must lie with the half-backs, Ben Youngs and George Ford. They ultimately run the game on the field, and should have set the pace much higher: there were only brief glimpses of the English backline’s capabilities. Argentina defended respectably but you feel they would have struggled to live with them had the game been played at any kind of pace. There was something wrong in England’s mindset.

In fairness, Argentina’s error count didn’t help England. There were countless knock-ons, which meant there was very little flow, whilst the refereeing also contributed – the referee and his assistants were very quick on the whistle, blowing up for a couple of ‘forward passes’ that weren’t.

England can’t shirk all the blame, though. There were handling errors and loose passes, and they struggled to get go-forward. Nathan Hughes, who showed great strength to finish his try, gave them penetration at times, as did Mako Vunipola, but other ball-carriers were lacking. Courtney Lawes was not at his destructive best, but perhaps they could have done with someone like the injured Te’o or Tuilagi in midfield to get them on the front foot.

Ford thrives on front-foot ball, but when it isn’t going their way, Owen Farrell still makes things happen. In such a sluggish game, England missed his game management. They also missed his goal-kicking, as Ford struck the post twice. This was nothing compared to Argentina, however, who missed 14 points off the tee. England weren’t particularly ill-disciplined, but can count themselves a tad fortunate. Had they kicked their goals, Argentina would have won.

Outside Ford, Jonathan Joseph was quiet in attack, and Henry Slade didn’t show the best of himself.

This was England's third win against Argentina in the past six monthsEngland Rugby

It wasn’t all negative for England, though. Their defence kept Argentina very much at bay until the final five minutes when they eventually succumbed after 30 phases on their own line, and the centres must be praised for their part in that. England never looked like losing.

Part of me wonders if they did it deliberately. Jones has spoken recently about how the All Blacks have been purposefully putting themselves under pressure and, having leaked a lot of tries lately, I wonder whether Jones wanted England to test their own defence in that second half. This might just be wishful thinking on my part.

Sam Underhill, though, was stand-out. He made countless tackles, the majority of which saw the opposition driven backwards. He was relentless, and more than justified his selection. James Haskell, the man whose place he’s taken, was watching from the stands as part of Sky’s punditry team, and heaped praise upon the 22-year-old. You had to feel for Hask, but this showed the measure of the man.

The official man-of-the-match, Mako Vunipola, made 20 tackles, but struggled at scrum-time. This was one area where Argentina got the upper hand, and one which England must improve upon if they are to be unbeatable. Even the bench didn’t have quite its usual impact.

That said, Lozowski took his chance superbly. He almost immediately sparked England to life with a break in midfield, which lead to Rokoduguni’s try. He replaced Joseph, pushing Slade to 13, where he looked more comfortable. England might have finished the game with the world’s best-looking centre partnership. I’m surprised he’s sent Lozowski back to Saracens – I’d have put him on the bench again.

In the back three, Rokoduguni entered the fray earlier than he might have expected, after Mike Brown was removed following a nasty-looking head knock. Roko took his try well but was otherwise absent, and looked out of place in defence at times – a better team might have exploited this. I can’t see him being a mainstay of England’s first XV.

However, Brown’s injury did give Anthony Watson a long-awaited chance at fullback. He didn’t see an awful lot of ball but what he did was excellent – particularly in the air. Even if Brown recovers in time for the weekend, I’d to start Watson at 15 to add an attacking edge

Farrell and Itoje are certain to come back in, to face an Australian team who played well to beat Wales on Saturday. I’d move Slade to 13 to give him another chance, and bring Farrell in at 12. Itoje should go straight into the second row, instead of Kruis – who I didn’t think had a great game, and has been omitted from the week’s 25-man squad – and resist the temptation to put Lawes at six. Robshaw didn’t make any headlines against the Pumas but his all-round contribution, in terms of leadership and breakdown work, makes him so hard to leave out.

Young Sam Simmonds wasn’t really given long enough to show what he’s about, but he made some strong tackles. He could get another shot against the Wallabies. Joe Marler has returned from his ban and is set to sure up the English scrum from the bench.

At the end of the day, a win is a win, and England move on to their biggest game of the autumn. It’s is a must-win, and England will have to find another gear. Above all, though, I feel like this weekend was a wasted opportunity. It was one match closer to the World Cup, and one which passed without any progress made.

Onwards and upwards…

My team to face Australia:

Starting XV: Watson, May, Slade, Farrell, Daly, Ford, Youngs, Hughes, Underhill, Robshaw, Lawes, Itoje, Cole, Hartley (c), Vunipola

Finishers: George, Marler, Williams, Launchbury, Simmonds, Care, Joseph, Rokoduguni

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