After the heartbreak of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, where, as if you needed reminding, Stuart Lancaster’s team were knocked out in the group stages, it was all eyes on England as they lined up for this year’s Six Nations tournament. Eddie Jones had made some noticeable changes, most obviously with Chris Robshaw relinquishing his captaincy and Dylan Hartley stepping up to the plate.
A narrow defeat delivered by a strong Wales team had been the final nail in the coffin for England’s World Cup hopes, and so this year’s rematch in the Six Nations was the one to watch. Having fared well against Scotland, Italy, and Ireland, it was crucial to not make the same mistakes that had been made at the World Cup. While England’s performance tailed off in the later stages of the second half, giving fans a rather unwelcome bout of squeaky bum time, England managed to cling on to their lead, and sail through to Grand Slam victory the following week.
If a few months under Eddie Jones’s guidance can turn around England’s fortunes against Wales, then the years leading up to the 2019 World Cup should see a remarkable improvement. A quick glance at the Six Nations stats tells you all you need to know – England walked away as the team with the most tackles (643) and the most passes (572). This shows a united and attacking squad, the proof of which is in the five clear victories celebrated this spring.
A true test of England’s new skills lies in wait this summer, when the team will be heading south for a tour of Australia, the other nation who had a hand in England’s World Cup woes. The three-test series will see Eddie Jones taking on his old side; it was he who led them against England in the 2003 World Cup final, where Jonny Wilkinson’s last minute drop goal secured the trophy for England. If the England team want to hold their own, there’s still a good deal of work to be done. The Aussies were a dominant force at the World Cup, beaten only by their Kiwi neighbours in the final. No doubt some important lessons will be learned by all in the England camp during their tour.
With the confidence of a Grand Slam victory behind them, England can move forward without the shadow of 2015 hanging over them. Their summer tour will also put them through their paces, but it’s safe to say that things are looking brighter and better for this much improved squad.
Contact: Janie Rabet