ALTHOUGH to outsiders the game against Japan has long been circled as the least interesting of England’s autumn internationals, Ben Youngs says it is now “vital” for the squad’s continued evolution after the near-miss against New Zealand.
The scrum-half played his part in Saturday’s thrilling game against the All Blacks when the Red Rose were only denied a surprise win against the world champions after Sam Underhill’s 76th-minute try was controversially chalked off by the TMO.
Although that was a contentious decision, what is undeniable is that England are certainly back on track following their travails earlier this year.
Having won the third and final Test against South Africa in Cape Town during the summer, and edging the Springboks in the opening autumn international before falling just short versus New Zealand, that five-match losing run that started in the Six Nations is beginning to feel like a distant memory.
Youngs said: “On the back of last season, Eddie touched on it really. A lot of that happened because we are evolving; we are learning about ourselves and now we are seeing the evolution of the team and this (16-15 loss to All Blacks) was a really good step forward.
“Now it is really important what we do on the back of South Africa, on the back of today, next week becomes vital in terms of how we play.
“Some of those losses previously are probably just context of the game and various moments that we weren’t able to manage better.
“But we are certainly seeing a team that has learnt a lot from those losses.
“Had we won those games would we be where we are now?
“I can’t answer that but I still feel this team is really in a good position and on the back of the Cape Town win, last week and today.
We all sat in changing room afterwards and you could hear a pin drop – there was disappointment, we were at home, we had only lost one game under Eddie here and we feel like an opportunity was missed.Ben Youngs
“We all sat in changing room afterwards and you could hear a pin drop – there was disappointment, we were at home, we had only lost one game under Eddie here and we feel like an opportunity was missed.”
Jones made the point that, given all their injuries, the England side that pushed the All Blacks so close was relatively inexperienced in terms of Test experience, something which should be different if they meet again in the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Leicester Tigers star Youngs, 29, helped get England off to a flying start with his vision enabling a long pass to send winger Chris Ashton over after 115 seconds.
The hosts were immaculate as they built a 15-0 lead but, crucially, their gnarled opponents pegged them back to 15-10 in the final few minutes before the break.
On that period, Youngs said: “Teams, no matter what happens in a game, at some point are going to get the ball and put you under pressure. That is what an experienced team like them were able to do.
“Kieran Read obviously gathered them around and started picking and going, (Ardie) Savea started picking and going to tighten us up in D and once they tightened us up they went for width.
“They clearly had a game-plan when the weather came in and were able to do that. We weren’t just quite able to manage that momentum and stop them.
“In the last 10-minute period of the first half and first 10 minutes of the second we did things slightly differently.
“In my head one of the things was when we had them down second half we had to come away with some points and we didn’t. It gave them that momentum shift.”
Youngs, the second-most capped England No 9 in history behind Yorkshireman Danny Care, insisted they cannot be “buoyant” about the standard performance.
England thought they could win but they missed the chance.
After Beauden Barrett had put the All Blacks ahead with a penalty on the hour-mark, the home side did have opportunities to attempt a drop goal, especially after Jonny May’s break, but, strangely, nothing amounted.
However, Youngs, who had been replaced by former Leeds Tykes star Care by that point, maintained: “On the back of a line-break, you play on speed of ball.
“If the ball is nice and quick and it is on the back of a line-break you are at them and you want to keep on top of them and that is what we were doing.
“Until it broke down, I felt that was exactly the right thing; we got in behind them and kept playing on top of them.
“We just weren’t able to keep holding onto the ball and keep building that pressure.
“If we had kept hold of the ball, they would have had to be really disciplined in what they were doing and we could keep the pressure on them.
“I still felt we had moments to try and come away with something there. We just needed a bit more composure.”