It may be just two wins in the Six Nations but the last fortnight has shown Eddie Jones has learned from his mistakes in 2018 and that is a major factor behind England being talked about as World Cup contenders once more.
They won’t be getting carried away inside the camp and others shouldn’t either as, of course, things could take a turn for the worse again if a run of defeats ensues but Eddie has clearly changed the way he does things and the manner of the performances against Ireland and France prove that.
He’ll never admit to changing but it’s clear for all to see. His whole demeanour has changed, although a large part of that is obviously the positive effect of winning games again. He’s not throwing hand grenades out in the press and looks a lot calmer and more measured.
He has started the mind games with Warren Gatland early by saying that England are going to be facing the best Welsh team ever in Cardiff next weekend but they have just equalled their best ever winning streak and I don’t mind that.
A team is a reflection of its coach and we saw with Ben Youngs walking off in the middle of an interview with Sky during the summer that his behaviour did rub off on his players. Things change quickly in sport and that seems like a long time ago now.
It’s too simplistic to suggest that England now look like a very good team again just because Billy and Mako Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi have all played together for the first time but there’s no doubt that it’s been a major influence.
He has a full squad to choose from in general really, apart from Maro Itoje after his injury against Ireland and now Mako. We shouldn’t forget, though, that Ben Te’o would have almost certainly been selected in Dublin if he had have been fully fit so there’s been a bit of luck involved too in stumbling across certain combinations.
It was the same with Mark Wilson in the autumn. He was England’s player of the autumn internationals and has started the Six Nations on fire but he wouldn’t have got a game if it wasn’t for injuries to the likes of Chris Robshaw, James Haskell, Sam Simmonds and others.
Again, Eddie won’t admit that but everyone knows it. You need a bit of luck like that, though, and he can take it and move forwards.
I’ve spoken a lot about his training methods in the past and he’s definitely learned in that respect as the word coming out of the England camp now is that they aren’t being beasted in training like they were last year. There hasn’t been a major injury at an England training session for a while now either after there were a whole host over the course of the past couple of years.
And, he’s also learned that he needs to be less autocratic with John Mitchell appointed in September and Scott Wisemantel, who came in on a temporary basis in the summer, given the job on a more permanent basis recently too.
He was trying to do the job almost all on his own during last year’s Six Nations, especially with regard to England’s attack, and it probably didn’t help in South Africa that we knew Paul Gustard was leaving for Harlequins.
Mitchell and Wisemantel both deserve a lot of credit. Mitchell is a hothead, let’s make no bones about it, but I actually think his presence has helped to calm Eddie Jones down.
Owen Farrell being the captain on his own and being responsible for steering the ship in his own way has helped enormously as well. He’s in a position where he can truly challenge the head coach in a way that Dylan Hartley perhaps couldn’t because nobody is doubting his place in the team.
Hartley will be back in the squad as soon as he’s full recovered from his injury, which I’ve heard might take a bit longer than it was initially expected to, and I’m not denigrating his leadership skills at all but he’s the third choice hooker for me at the moment.
France helped England out quite a bit by picking two centres on the wings and a winger at full back, as well as bringing in Mathieu Bastareaud to play opposite the more mobile Henry Slade, but they got it spot on tactically again on Sunday.
That has to be a combination of good coaching and preparation in the build-up and excellent recognition of what was in front of them by the players on the day but they exploited the acres of space in behind the French backline time and again and most of the tries came from kicks.
It won’t be like that every game for this England team but it does look like they have the tools to play in different ways now and adapt to what the opposition is doing.
Ultimately, you want to win every game but England have come through injury crises, adversity and a period of very poor results and they look like they’ve come out the other side having learned from their mistakes and become a better team.
I don’t buy the theory that last year was all part of a masterplan for England to be in the best place possible come the World Cup – 2018 was everything you shouldn’t do as an international coach but they’re back in the winning habit and momentum is massive in World Cup years.
It’ll sound like I’m an arrogant Englishmen but if we go to Cardiff and win, then the Grand Slam’s ours with home games against Italy and Scotland to come. And, the Wales game is even more pivotal than a Grand Slam decider as well.
It’s England’s one acid test before the World Cup. There are now seven games left until they kick off their tournament but the four warm-up games will be used to try different things, so Cardiff takes on huge significance and you get the feeling they wish they didn’t have to wait until next weekend.
Whatever job you do in life you have to learn from your mistakes and it’s no different as the England Head Coach. If you carry on doing the same things, you’ll carry on getting the same results. Eddie has turned over a new leaf and long may it continue.
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