Eddie Jones revealed he has not been allowed to meet the referee Nigel Owens before England’s test of “manlihood” against Argentina on Saturday due to tournament regulations despite the furore surrounding officiating at the World Cup.
Jones claimed his “brutal” England side are ready for what he expects will be a macho battle against Argentina when victory would guarantee a place in the quarter-finals for the first time since 2011. He is expecting a ferocious encounter but has not been permitted to meet with the referee on the eve of the match, as is customary during the Six Nations and autumn internationals.
The opening rounds of the tournament were dominated by a series of controversial refereeing decisions that led to a remarkable statement from World Rugby in which the officials were publicly criticised.
Tournament rules dictate however, that coaches cannot meet with the match officials. “It is a World Rugby regulation and we follow every World Cup regulation to the letter, that is why I am here today [fulfilling media duties],” said Jones. “So we won’t see the referee before he comes in before the game and he has bodyguards with him, so we can’t get to him, we just smile and say ‘hello’.
“I think the refereeing has been as good as we could have hoped and that is all we can expect. It is what it is. It will be what it is tomorrow and we will accept whatever comes out way. We have prepared for the referee and I am sure the referee has prepared for this game so that is all we can hope for.”
Meanwhile, Jones has urged his side to meet Argentina’s confrontational approach head on as England seek to secure their place in the last eight. The Pumas represent England’s first major test of the tournament after two bonus point victories and Jones has warned his team they must match Argentina’s physicality.
“When you play against Argentina, they base their game on the scrum so it’s a test of manlihood, you have to take them on up-front,” said Jones. Whether the word he was reaching for was “manliness”, or “manhood” – or both – the message was clear. “To beat Argentina you have to take them on up-front – scrum, maul, ruck attack, ruck defence. That’s where it will be won.”
Jones’s rallying cry comes after the former Argentina captain Agustin Creevy had said that Saturday’s match would be “like a war” before highlighting his side’s passion as one of their key weapons. Jones warned against fighting emotional fire with fire but after Friday’s last training session, he urged England to book their place in the knockout stages.
“[The players are] looking fit, fast, brutal and ready to go,” he added. “They know what to do, now they just have to go out there and do it. Rugby is a tough physical game. We have seen that already at this World Cup. The passion and pride come down to the toughness of your play. But then there’s emotional control. Because when you have a lot of passion and pride, it tends to multiply your strengths and multiply your weaknesses. We obviously want to multiply our strengths and attack their weaknesses.”
England have won their past nine matches against Argentina – a run that stretches back to 2009 – but while the Pumas arrived at the World Cup having lost all of their Rugby Championship matches, Jones has been impressed by their two tournament outings – a narrow loss to France and a comfortable victory over Tonga – to date.
Argentina need to win to have any realistic chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals and Jones said: “They should have won against France – all the stats show that they should have won, and they had a good win against Tonga, who aren’t the easiest opponents.
“We’ve got the greatest respect for Argentina. We have prepared well for the game and physically we are in the best position we have been in. We were absolutely flying this morning.
“Mentally I think we are in a good position and we can’t be seduced by Argentina’s state. We know Argentina play with a lot of pride and a lot of passion and that will be multiplied by the fact they are in a game that is very important to them. The first part of the game is going to be very important. It will be a real test of each team’s courage.”