Would 2003 World Cup winning coach Sir Clive Woodward make wholesale changes for the clash to test England’s depth? Or would he leave the team the same, giving it further time to gel?
“You’ve got to do the latter,” Woodward said in the studio after England’s defeat to New Zealand. “I think with just 11 games to go [until the 2019 Rugby World Cup], England aren’t as developed as they’d like to be.
“In saying that, they’re in a great position now, and have some really good players coming through.
“They’ll be playing teams like Japan at the World Cup, they have to know how to approach this game and also to learn from the lessons they would have taken away from [games against] South Africa and now New Zealand in what they could do better.
“If anyone’s got a bang or any niggles, rest them, but apart from that I would leave it well alone and really see if we can just learn from lessons.
“You know, we bang on about drop goals in the debrief to the [New Zealand] game, so just say: ‘we’re going to get three drop goals against Japan’. Lets put it on so the whole team knows how to put them on.
“Can we speed the lineout up a bit more? Go a bit quicker from there and just put things on that they can put in place.
“In saying that, Japan are not a bad team. Japan under Eddie [Jones] beat South Africa a few years ago, so they’re a good side.
“I would give them full respect and play my full strength team if everyone’s 100 per cent fit.
“I would unload the bench pretty early against them [Japan], to give everyone a bit of big game preparation for Australia.
“[Kyle] Sinckler, [Sam] Underhill…these are guys that are really having a great autumn.”
Does Woodward think there were signs of progression between England’s performance against South Africa and the game with All Blacks?
“Definitely,” he added. “I think Ashton coming in, Underhill coming in, potentially has strengthened the team a wee bit and I think there’ll be a huge amount of confidence.
“And they’re saying all the right things. Eddie Jones is saying all the right things, Owen Farrell’s saying all the right things: ‘we’re building, we’re building’, but deep down in that changing room they’ll be so frustrated, because they’re professional players and that game was there to be won in the second half, it really was.
“I think they just blew a couple of big opportunities. Do you learn from them? We’ll find out, but try and put those learnings in place for Japan and really nail it so those things never happen again.
“Despite the no-try at the end, to not have a shot at goal, I’d lose a lot of sleep over that if I was coaching that team.”