TWICKENHAM, United Kingdom, Nov 25 – England defence coach Paul Gustard has insisted his side “hit hard too” in the run-up to what is set to be a physical encounter with Samoa at Twickenham on Saturday.
Pacific island teams have a reputation for ferocious tackling but England, bidding for a 22nd win in 23 Tests under Australian head coach Eddie Jones, have not risen to second in the world rankings by being a bunch of shrinking violets.
“It’s too easy to stereotype people of certain descent. They hit hard but we have guys who hit hard too,” Gustard told reporters at Twickenham on Friday.
“We’ve got some big hitters. There’s not many people that tackle harder than Courtney Lawes, Joe Marler or whoever. We’ve got guys who can stop people in their tracks as well — big guys who can hit and run hard.”
Cash-strapped Samoa have lost all six Tests they’ve played this year and have yet to beat England. But with seven of their Twickenham starting XV playing for English Premiership clubs, Gustard is well aware of the challenge confronting the hosts in their final Test of the year.
“Samoa are big men, run quick and have athleticism and desire. They will also want to perform after their loss to Romania,” said Gustard, who last week enjoyed the professional satisfaction of seeing England deny the usually free-scoring Australia a try in a 30-6 win over the Wallabies at Twickenham.
“Samoa can score points — we saw that against Scotland (in a 44-38 defeat at Murrayfield earlier this month). They’re a dangerous team if you allow them to be.
“We want to go up a level from last week. We feel like we’ve made a couple of big inroads over the past year and now we want to go up another level this weekend.”
Jones has made nine changes to his starting XV following last week’s victory in a bid to increase squad depth ahead of the 2019 World Cup in Japan, with regular captain Dylan Hartley benched as British and Irish Lions hooker Jamie George makes his first England start.
One of Jones’s first decisions on becoming England coach following the hosts’ lacklustre first-round exit at the 2015 World Cup was to appoint Hartley captain despite an appalling disciplinary record that has seen the Northampton front-row miss a massive 60 weeks of his career through various suspensions.
Hartley, however, has stayed out of trouble while leading England under Jones and, for all he has made a change on Saturday, the former Australia and Japan coach plans on sticking with him as skipper for next year’s Six Nations.
Barring injury or a dramatic loss in form, the only other reason for Jones to change his mind regarding the England captaincy is if the New Zealand-born Hartley falls foul of officialdom yet again between now and the title-holders’ Six Nations opener away to Italy on February 4.
Bans imposed while on club duty are also capable of ruling players out of Test rugby as well.
“Certainly at this stage there’s no reason why he won’t be captain for the Six Nations,” Jones said of Hartley.
“If he doesn’t have one of those mystical experiences at Franklin’s Gardens, then he’ll be captain. As long as that mist doesn’t come in over Franklin’s Gardens,” he added in a reference to Northampton’s home ground.