Getting knocked out in the group stages of the World Cup you're hosting made for a messy bit of PR for England Rugby; AKA the most “hated” rugby union nation on Earth for absolutely zero legitimate reasons by the plastic fans and trolls.
Notwithstanding the fact that England are actually not the first host nation to be knocked out of their own World Cup in the group stages (do your homework), the events thankfully sparked an idea in the minds of the powers that be to do something about it.
Low and behold, they gave us Eddie Jones; a man who single handily proved what Stuart Lancaster had failed to do during his tenure in charge of England – make the men in white a dominant world beating squad once again.
Isn’t it ironic that we robbed our poor beloved Eddie of a World Cup trophy in 2003 when he was in charge of the Wallabies Down Under? Now, he’s in charge of the very nation who took that dream away from him; although some could argue that he got his revenge as an assistant coach to the Springboks in 2007!
Anyway, rugby is a funny old game, and he’s a solid professional with a job to do, and we absolutely love him for it! So, on the topic of coaching transitions, I’m not bashing Lancaster, but I think his results hold him to fair account.
SL was great at developing new talent in the EPS, but he didn’t have the credentials or experience to lead the continual development for the England team to move forward. He played a pivotal role in bringing forth the talent, but lacked the ability to finish the job.
With the finances and wealth of players England have, it’s abundantly clear to see why they should be in the mix of top-flight rugby. That’s an obvious statement, and not one which any level-headed rugby union enthusiast can argue with. It took a man like Jones to come in and shuffle the squad around to make the best of what we had, and he has proven that it’s possible for England to become somewhat unstoppable.
Queue plastic fans and trolling haters here, who will no doubt insert comments like “same old arrogant English” or “same old England thinking they’re the best again” – the stats and results speak for themselves. England are now one (albeit, monumentally large) step behind the All Blacks who continue to be the undisputed best team in the world, and they absolutely deserve to be there.
We’ve never been arrogant. Pull your heads out of the sand!
We’re a proud rugby nation of fantastic fans and passionate players. We may be tarnished with the ridiculous brushes bestowed upon us by our fellow countries, and we may have a boring National Anthem and nothing near a “Haka” to show the culture of English rugby and the pride of our island nation; but that doesn’t stop us being the best.
Eddie Jones has instilled the belief in the talent that was already there. Belief and confidence are the two greatest possessions a sporting team can hold, and the All Blacks have it in abundance. We had it too, but it wasn’t coming to fruition under the previous coaching setup, but it has been thankfully nurtured by a man who has swiftly become a figurehead for world rugby once more as he leads our nation forward in a quest to be the best against the odds of having to face the generally better Southern Hemisphere sides.
And it’s a thing to be proud of.
The Key Transitions
EJ has done something that is both profound and simple in strikingly equal measure; he has taught England how to win any game.
That doesn’t mean we will win any game, but it does mean that the players have the tools to be able to do it. Again, the All Blacks have been achieving this for years, and will no doubt continue to do it until the end of time. But, now, they have a contender in England who have been able to successfully match that ability to see off any team, no matter the players, and no matter the problems.
He’s taught England how to win games, which is not a statement that’s as simple as it sounds.
All teams have characteristics and things about them that highlight their respective nation’s credentials. Recently, Australia have had a dominant backline and a formidable defence; Fiji have the ability to utilise broken play to send their ball carriers over the gain line; Argentina’s offloading game make them a real threat; and so on, and so forth. But when you take the All Blacks, they have an all-round package of solid defence, clinical attack, and the ability to be punishing when their opponents make mistakes.
I.e. they make sure they can win any game – and England have used the exact same method as they front-up in defence, and take their attacking chances to score tries. It isn’t quite “there” yet, but the blueprint has been firmly put in place, and now we’re on the first rung of the long climb up to the top of World Rugby.
It won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible; and that’s the confidence Eddie Jones has instilled.
At a Glance
At a glance, England fleshed out the basics to see them win a Grand Slam in the 2016 Six Nations tournament. Good defence and simple play allowed us to muscle (albeit, with great difficulty) through each game.
The Australia series down under was an entirely different kettle of fish. Step one of winning games had been accomplished in the Six Nations, and it was time for the boys to show dominance in defence, physicality upfront, and clever lines from the backs. Practically speaking, our best team was played, and they managed to grab the win, which was the first foot in to the next stage of the journey that, as fate would have it, ticked the proceeding box on the job sheet.
The Autumn Internationalis for England were all about one thing: strength in depth.
With key players like Itoje, Nowell, and Haskell out for the whole of the series, fans were understandably worried. To top it off, our best winger May was only just coming back from injury – as was Kruis – and we lost big Billy for the final massive test against the Wallabies.
Was I worried? No, not at all.
Why? Because, win or lose, any international team needs depth. Jones said right from the start that he wanted a minimum of three “out and outs” in each position, and that’s what we have to build toward. Me not being worried didn’t mean I thought we would win every game, as I honestly didn’t -but I thought it was a crucial test to show how we’d be able to cope without players who had been really key to the summer tour that saw an historic white wash Down Under.
Amazingly, the strength in depth proved to be a massive success as England were victorious in every single match, meaning they were the unbeaten team of 2016.
What an achievement!
Individual Brilliance in the Autumn Series
I’ll give my insight in to what went very well, although I could go on all day with this:
Ben Youngs – he has been a little shaky in a Tigers jersey of late, which may be down to some of the recent alterations in tactics for my beloved midlands home side. In an England jersey, however, he showed why he is the out and out 9 for England right now.
He has been accused of being slow from the ruck, which I dispute in terms of any negative stigma – it’s just Ben playing sensibly. If you have a keen eye, or if you’ve been listening to the Sky Sports pundits, you’ll see he often sucks in the opposition by holding on to the ball past at least one or two players from the base of a ruck. He will also commonly throw a longer pass to help his teammates get around the corner; stretching defences, and testing their line speed.
He knows when to kick and when to run as well. In this series alone he was responsible for no less than three brilliant muggings, with two against the Springboks, and one against the Wallabies, where his quick decision making was directly attributable to tries.
He’s a special scrum half, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the days of Dawson, and I back him all the way.
Chris Robshaw – “that” decision to go for the corner against Wales in the RWC2015, and the overall results as a captain, are things that must be left in the past. Chris Robshaw is the epitome of English rugby, and he only ever needed one thing from the man in charge of the international team – the ability to just play rugby.
Without the responsibility of being a captain, and in the number 6 jersey, he is left to do what he needs to do – make a nuisance of himself for the opposition around the field. In no way was him losing the captaincy anything to be ashamed of, because the man just needed the freedom to play rugby as a Blindside Flanker, and he put in some seriously brilliant work in throughout November / December this year.
He is without a doubt one of the unsung heroes who does his job well outside of the limelight, and he is our best number 6, and that’s that. Hats off on one hell of a Series.
Jonathan Joseph – AKA the poacher!
His mastery is similar to Robshaw’s in terms of his abilities as a defender, although many will only see him shine when he’s poached a ball and scored a try; which he does admirably. Again, though, it’s his work around the field that makes him a first choice Outside Centre, and his ability to steal a ball or two is amazing to watch.
Quickly, we must tip our hats to Hartley who continues to do a fanatic job as captain, and to May for playing his defensive and attacking roles perfectly on his return. Kruis, as always, put his body on the line for his country, and Lawes has shown why he absolutely deserves a place amongst the blessed wealth of talent we have in the Lock positon. Brown has also seen a return to form as his ball carrying abilities have been reminiscent of the 2013/2014 era, and Billy Vunipola is a world class number 8.
Things weren’t perfect, and there is always room for improvement.
Defensively, we were sometimes poor in periods of the game, particularly in the opening half. It took a little time to grind through the gears, and there were some players who can certainly do with improving.
To be brutally honest, Harrison shouldn’t be in the squad at all. He was taken off early in the summer Series Down Under for a good reason, and he didn’t fare much better in this Autumn’s series either. When Vunipola was off for the injury against Argentina, I was screaming at the TV when he was popping his head up like a meerkat at the base of the scrum!
What was he thinking?!
Both Yarde and Rokoduguni have work to do in defence, and I was far from convinced with Tom Wood’s selection at 7, although we are lacking in that position. And no, this has nothing to do with me being a Tigers fan at all!
We sometimes took the foot off the gas which you can be really heavily punished for, so some better stability in the earlier stages of the game is one thing to work on. But, to be fair, as long as the boys are closing out the games, I can’t complain.
On The Whole…
Eddie Jones was clear when he took the job that fitness was a key priority. England have been closing out games solely down to their fitness, so we can all agree he was spot on with his targeting of that area, and it has helped England win the big contests.
Like I said earlier, confidence and belief is there, and they are two key ingredients to a winning formula. We saw some common momentum swings in the second half of games, and the sheer resilience helped to literally “carry them home” through a perfect year with every single game won.
All in all, this is just the very first step on the huge long ladder to the top. The All Black’s remain in a different league, but England have proudly shown why they deserve to be at the number two slot in the world, and why they deserve to be able to go all the way.
A lot can happen over the coming months, and the continuation of England’s success is in no way guaranteed. But we have a young squad with a lot of depth, and no one can argue when I say that this is a very exciting time to be an English rugby supporter, and I can only hope that the best is yet to come.
I could go on and on about each individual game in terms of performances, highlights, lowlights, and some seriously poor reffing decisions, but we’d be here forever!
On a final note, I’d like to personally extend a slow and smiling clap to the Australian media who have mocked and jeered our players and fans, showing their mindless and intellectually deficient journalism to be just as bad as the likes of the Daily Mail and The Sun that we English are lumbered with here in Old Blighty. Australia are a fine rugby nation with a fantastic team who are deserved of all the respect in the world, and I’d like to think their assumedly wonderful fans are just as embarrassed by the woeful arrogance depicted in the popular papers Down Under, and to that end, I say this:
Who’s the clown now?
Image “credit” – The Australian “newspaper”
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