Stunning performances, and one of the most successful records in international rugby for 2016, have allowed Eddie Jones’ men to dream big as England aim for the perfect year.
Compare and contrast the fortunes of the ‘men in white’ between 2015 and 2016, and it is hard to believe that this is the same a group. One that has today had a total overhaul and been completely rebuilt, to a fundamentally different ethos.
This is clearly a case of rather the ‘unlocking and unleashing of a pool of talent’ that was all present in 2015, but that has found its teeth in the ensuing 12 months. It has brought fans back to Twickenham, before this weekends final clash with the Wallabies.
When the Rugby Football Union (RFU) recruited Eddie Jones in November last year, they were determined to appoint ‘a coach with proven international experience‘ and it was Jones who seemingly benefited from the cultural platform that Stuart Lancaster had built within the national side.
Eddie Jones has been named as the England Head Coach on a four year deal. https://t.co/AGfM9hbqTM pic.twitter.com/0fDYXDbcn6
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) November 20, 2015
Lancaster’s was a job of bringing soaring egos back down to earth. Reminding players with increasing tastes for celebrity and social misbehavior, what they were employed to do and how fortunate they were to be in that position. With that accomplished – if not the numerous trophies and wins that the English fans demanded – post the Rugby World Cup failure, he made way for a coach with more International experience to take England into the upper-echelons of the game.
Best Team in the World
Jones’ immediate and unremitting goal was for England to be the ‘best team in the world’. Yet in order to do that, he didn’t ask the squad to try and emulate the incumbent leaders of the pack [the All Blacks] rather he identified that they needed to be the best English team that they could be. That would ultimately allow them to reach their agreed goal.
That Englishness was the key. Jones has an unerring respect for the way that England have historically played the game. Not the sophisticated skill set and punishing fitness of New Zealand’s great teams. Nor the mercurial side-stepping of the great Welsh sides, or the ‘chaotic elegance’ of France.
Jones recognized what the ‘brutal efficiency’ of the England squads heritage was. Utilizing what he could unlock and the play that had won them their triumphant 2003 World Cup, the RFU trusted in his vision. An organised and dominant set-piece, with good jumpers in the lineout and monsters at the point of scrummage.
Know your Limitations
Yet Jones and his coaching group also looked more deeply, and found that limitations both ‘enforced and pre-coached’ were hampering the effectiveness of the team. In the analysis, it was affecting selection and game plans.
He was quick to realise that without an abundance of true natural open-sides, there was little point in forcing someone to play in that way as Lancaster had done with Chris Robshaw. Furthermore, to coerce a man like Robshaw into playing out of his comfort zone, while missing out on his prowess when played on the other side of the scum [often by Harlequins] was an outcome that was doubly frustrating for Jones.
A backline pigeon-holed for too long
The back line was never settled. The plan to have a ‘solid’ back division built primarily on defence took the players down a route of one-up running and strict patterns. It took no account of the game situation in front of them – players did not react, or adapt mid-game. Furthermore, what we have seen is that it was an insult to players such as Mike Brown, Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt and Ben Youngs because they became pigeon-holed as one dimensionally limited rugby players… which of course, they are not.
They just needed to be given the freedom to trust themselves. And look at them now [as a group]. Even with injury or a change in selection, they now have the ability to watch the game evolve, a skill badly missing in October 2015. In doing so, whilst also shoring up their discipline around the field, it has brought other benefits.
Having a Head Coach who is happy to take some of the limelight and therefore some of the pressure away from the side, they have been transformed – yet this is not entirely different personnel. They are the same core group of players but they have been given the confidence to be ‘all they can be’.
England Aim for Perfect Year
Right from the beginning, results started to come. Initially, a successful Six Nations Grand Slam (see main picture). They were applauded for how quickly the group bounced back. That was quickly followed by the magnificent series victory down under which made the rest of the rugby world stand up and take notice. It immediately triggered a re-focus and they are now a side that others look to ‘take down’.
Now a target for Michael Cheika’s Australian team. Not for a Wallabies home nations Grand Slam (ended by Ireland last week) but for this weekend’s big match at Twickenham. The final game of the season, the cherry on the top, the last laugh. Plus the added dimension that at a Head Coaches’ level, it is Aussie v Aussie.
Finally, there is no getting away from the fact that come Saturday; should England win, it will appear like one of the greatest year-on-year transformations of any sporting side, for a very long time. And well deserved, it may be.
Old Mutual Wealth Series
Saturday 3rd December – England v Australia 14.30 Twickenham
“Main photo credit”