A lot has changed in the last 15 months and England will be hoping there’s just as much of a shift to come over the next 15 months with the 2019 World Cup exactly that length of time away.
Despite getting the monkey off their back on Saturday, It has been downhill all the way for England since they lost to Ireland in their Grand Slam game in March 2017. The men in green have gone in the other direction, but there’s still time for England to turn things around… if they can learn from the current Six Nations Grand Slam champions.
Eddie Jones would like people to believe England are back on the horse already after five straight Test defeats but a win in treacherous conditions against a much-changed South Africa side in a dead rubber has done nothing more than stop the rot at this stage.
The wet and windy conditions in Cape Town suited England more than the Springboks and the win and manner of victory certainly don’t answer all of the questions that have been raised over the past year or so.
Jones has called up over 100 different players in his two and a half years in charge of England but so many of those haven’t been given a proper chance and it was clear for all to see that he didn’t trust a large number of the 34-man squad he selected for this tour.
He has been harping on about the 25 players that he had to leave behind for this tour but, in reality, there were only a handful that could have made a difference and who have been picked regularly over the past couple of seasons.
As many as 10 of the 36 players who ended up on tour in South Africa didn’t feature at all and another five, such as Denny Solomona, Nick Isiekwe and Ben Spencer, didn’t get anywhere near enough minutes to make an impression.
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It’s great to have those guys in camp but there’s only so much you can find out in training and he has learned absolutely nothing about them in a Test environment so they have lost the series and it is a missed opportunity as well.
I really don’t understand his insistence that the Premiership doesn’t prepare players for international rugby. It’s another step up but if you’re playing well, you’re going to go into the national team with confidence and the opposite is true as well and I think some players have carried poor domestic form into the Tests.
On the other hand, Ireland’s series win in Australia has been a real squad effort with a steady hand on the tiller right at the top to develop players and offer composure and stability.
If you compare Eddie Jones’ actions and words to the calm approach of Joe Schmidt and the trust he has in his squad, they are poles apart.
That’s a phrase Warren Gatland used last week to describe the difference between where Wales and England stand as they prepare for next year’s World Cup. He may have a point but Ireland are the ones setting the standards and England need to take a look at their whole setup and do so straightaway if they want to have any chance of achieving their goal of winning the tournament in Japan.
Simon Easterby, Andy Farrell, Greg Feek and Richie Murphy are all long-standing lieutenants of Schmidt, whereas England have no permanent attack coach, Paul Gustard jumping ship and now rumours that Steve Borthwick applied for the Ulster job as well.
A team plays and acts in its head coach’s image and Eddie Jones has been prickly with the media, has taken pot shots at other nations and not backed his players at times publicly.
Even this weekend he talked about Danny Cipriani playing well before following it up by saying he had no doubts he’d be on the front page of The Sun. You just don’t hear those quotes from Schmidt and the highest calibre of coaches around the world.
He bemoans the lack of leadership in his side but that starts at the top and I think he’s got to take a long, hard look at himself and his methods over the summer and ask some tough questions about how he can improve as a leader and get England back on track.
The players will be sat together at breakfast wondering what he’s going to say and do that day at the moment. That’s not an easy environment to be in and there are a lot more questions than answers in the England camp at the moment. The buck stops with Eddie Jones and he has to find those answers and fast.
On the pitch, Cipriani answered enough questions to say that he’s a Test quality player and should be given the opportunity to start the autumn internationals if he’s still in form and Jones doesn’t take the option to start Owen Farrell in his preferred position but it wasn’t easy for him to truly shine.
Jonny May has now scored in five consecutive Tests, just one behind Rory Underwood’s record, and Joe Launchbury came back in after missing the first Test and made a big difference but we knew about their quality already.
Joe Marler really took his chance at the weekend as well after missing spells through suspension over the past season and playing second fiddle to Mako Vunipola but we didn’t learn too much about other players…with one exception.
There were jokes when England won the Grand Slam over in Paris in 2016 about them having two number six and a halves, Eddie Jones said himself that Chris Robshaw wasn’t a number seven during the 2015 World Cup and we haven’t had one for years but we’ve found one now.
Tom Curry has performed well in all three Tests, doesn’t look out of place physically at the age of just 20 and is an out-and-out openside who makes an impact at the breakdown, so he has to be given the nod in the number seven shirt moving forwards.
New Zealand are going to be big favourites for the 2019 World Cup and Ireland are now second favourites after winning 14 of their last 15 games but South Africa, Australia, Wales and even Scotland are all setting their stalls out nicely to be competitive. England have to admit that they are firmly back among that chasing pack now.
There is no doubt that the quality and depth of talent is there in English rugby to be heading to Japan in 15 months with a great chance of winning a World Cup. Whether it gets the chance to shine and develop enough to peak at the right time remains to be seen.
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