“You’ve seen better teams than us fall away vs the All Blacks and lose by 40 or 50 points. If you don’t stay in the fight, you can get blown away. We stayed in the fight; It’s always up to the players. I trust their decision-making. I’m not on the field, I don’t have access to them”
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 20/11/22 12:32pm
Eddie Jones hailed his England side’s spirit to “stay in the fight” vs New Zealand, adding that he trusts the players with decisions, including their choice to kick the ball off at the end with the game level.
A late yellow card for Beauden Barrett proved crucial as England recovered from 25-6 down to draw 25-25 with the All Blacks at Twickenham after three dramatic late tries.
Replacement prop Will Stuart (two) and full-back Freddie Steward each scored in the final eight minutes – the last of which came in the final minute – after Barrett had been yellow-carded for cynically failing to release when Marcus Smith had gone close.
Smith, who converted the final two tries, chose to kick the ball out after England claimed the restart, despite still facing 14 for the final play, as the All Blacks were left to stew on failing to win a Test from 14 points ahead for the very first time.
“I thought we played with tremendous spirit in the first half. New Zealand were superb in the first half, and I can’t recall New Zealand playing as well as they did in the first half,” Jones said.
“[They were] Aggressive, sharp around the ruck, attacking kicks. We just had to hang in there.
“We hung in there and hung in there, and then at the start of the second half, we were able to put some pressure back on them. And the first 20 minutes of the second half I thought we were the dominant team, but it didn’t convert to any points.
“All of a sudden, someone blows some magic dust and the passes start to click, the lines are a bit sharper, and I thought our finishers came on and really improved the game we wanted to play. Sometimes that happens.
“Mako [Vunipola] came on and ran some really good lines in the centre of the field, which allowed us to attack a bit straighter on the outside. So the game changed.
“It’s a really important game for us that we played with such spirit.
“It’s a good moment for the team, there’s a lot of guys out there playing their first Tests against New Zealand, and sometimes that can be a bit of a daunting experience, because they go after you.
“You’ve got to be able to handle that baptism of fire, and sometimes you don’t. But you’ve got to learn from it, and the next time they play them, they’ll be better.
“For us, we’re building a team that’s going to be able to play in a number of different ways. Being able to play a much more aggressive, attacking game is something we’ve been working on, like the last little bit [of the Test].
“The role of the 23-man squad is so important for us. The 23 wins the game.”
Asked specifically about Smith and England’s choice to kick the ball off with the clock in the red, Jones said he backs his players’ decisions.
“It’s always up to the players. I trust their decision-making,” he added.
“I’m not on the field, I don’t have access to them. So I just trust their decisions.
“I thought second half we played really well. We’re disappointed we didn’t win the game, but a draw is a draw, and with the dominance they had in the first half, we could have fallen away.
“You’ve seen better teams than us fall away against the All Blacks and lose by 40 or 50 points. Absolutely pulverised.
“If you don’t stay in the fight, you can get blown away. We stayed in the fight, and I think the leadership team was outstanding. Owen [Farrell] on his 100th cap did a great job, with [Ellis] Genge and [Jack] Nowell.
Of the late decision, skipper Owen Farrell added: “We just wanted to see where we were off the ruck. If we got go-forward, got on the front-foot and had an opportunity, then we wanted to take it, and if not we wanted to make a good decision, and I think that’s what was done.”