The English Rugby team has gone from crashing out in the group stages of their own World Cup just 9 months ago, to 2016 where they’ve won a Grand Slam for the first time in 13 years and claimed a series win in Australia for the first time ever; with a squad whose core has been relatively unscathed from the World Cup, the only thing that can have changed drastically within the camp is belief. Eddie Jones is clearly a man who has complete belief in his ability, and this has undoubtedly rubbed off onto the players. It transpired after the second test win last weekend that himself and Dylan Hartley had gone into the series with genuine belief that they could claim a whitewash, and thus far they are on track to fulfil this desire. In recent times England would have faltered at the last hurdle, but what we’ve witnessed over the last two weeks is a team that has complete faith in themselves collectively and as individuals. Eddie Jones and his England side are currently ranked at second in the world, and if they’re to accomplish their goal of being the world’s best team this belief must continue and grow.
If I was to pinpoint an area that has frustrated me with England over the last decade it would be inconsistency. They would thrill you one weekend and the next put in a performance that wasn’t worthy of any credit or accolade. Eddie Jones has formed a tight-knit squad that knows exactly what they’re meant to be doing on the field and exactly what they’re trying to achieve, and the players are willing to give everything to ensure it happens. Jones has managed to forge a forward pack that is so consistent, whether it is at the set-piece or in open play, that they are making it impossible for the opposition to find a secure footing in the match. I can’t ever remember feeling the confidence I have in this England team to get the job done and as the young squad grows together it can only get stronger and more formidable.
Defence is paramount to any team being successful, wherever they play in the world, and under Eddie Jones and Paul Gustard’s guidance the English defence has become an absolute joy to behold. Michael Cheika has come out this week and accused England of ‘dull’ tactics, but when you outscored the opposition two tries to one and made three times the amount of tackles, I’d say it was anything but dull. Dylan Hartley spoke of the embarrassment of conceding four tries during the first test in Brisbane 3 weeks ago, words that were most certainly backed up last weekend with England conceding only one try from a well-constructed driving maul following an attacking lineout. Defensively they have it spot on; they know exactly how many men to commit to the breakdown, everyone takes full responsibility to make their first up tackles and be in the right position, but most importantly they are willing to give everything for their team and country, a statement that couldn’t be encompassed more by James Haskell’s performance and 31 tackles at the weekend.
It is a phrase synonymous with New Zealand rugby; the ability to have opportunities, no matter how few or far between, and take them. England have been found wanting in this department over the years, but 2016 has seen an England team that knows where the try line is, knows when to take points and knows exactly when to push hard to force the opposition into a corner and leave them at their mercy. Last weekend England played the majority of the second period camped in their own half defending, yet from an inspired Chris Robshaw who stole the ball on England’s five metre line, England were able to go up the other end of the pitch and score a try that was probably their only clear-cut chance of the second half. If that sequence of play doesn’t remind you of New Zealand then I’m not sure what else would. This clinical edge has transpired into 8 wins in a row and an unbeaten 2016; it is now up to Eddie Jones to maintain this edge within his squad and the players to ensure they stay proud about keeping the opposition from crossing their try line starting with Australia in the final test this weekend.
Micheal Cheika has once again been in the media accusing England of ‘niggle’ tactics; he has accused the England players of bending the rules somewhat with their off the ball actions, yet I think this level of intensity and ferocity the English squad has displayed this year, particularly during this tour of Australia, has been outstanding. The first and second tests have been full of fireworks and clashes off the ball and so what? Rugby is a physical sport and tempers are bound to flare. It might be considered gamesmanship to rile your opponent but if it works then more fool the opposition for rising to the bait. England, to me, seem like a team that are immensely proud of playing for England and that is something to be admired. They celebrate loudly, sometimes invading the opposition’s personal space when doing so, but at least they are passionate about their sport and country. Eddie Jones has given England this edge, a weapon in their arsenal that they have been missing since 2003, and it is proving to be absolutely vital.
As they head into their final test against Australia this weekend it is so important they continue to take the values and concepts listed above and relay them into their performance. Eddie Jones has likened Saturday’s match to that of a World Cup Final and who can blame him. If England can win the series with a whitewash not only will it elevate England’s level even more, but it will let the Southern Hemisphere sides know that this England team are here to stay and they’re heading to the top.