As the dust settles on an historic Series win on Australian soil, RW looks at the reasons Eddie Jones' men have made such an impact in the Southern Hemisphere
In the last seven months, England have staged one of the most remarkable Test turnarounds in memory, as they’ve gone from also-rans at No 8 in the World rankings to No 2, after winning a Grand Slam and now historic Series in Australia. Here are the reasons they humbled the Wallabies in their own backyard
Thousands of column inches have been taken up dissecting Eddie Jones’ seismic impact on English rugby, and the plaudits raining down on him are justifiable. The fact is, Jones has refused to stand still for a second. After every milestone, be it a Grand Slam, or a Series win in Australia, he is already casting his eyes forward to the next challenge. He simply refuses to rest on his laurels.
It was telling that just minutes after winning in Melbourne, he was talking about a 3-0 whitewash. Why? Because that’s what the All Blacks would have done and Steve Hansen’s men are the benchmark. Like two heavyweight contenders, England and the ABs will circle each other for two years before meeting in 2018, ahead of the World Cup in Japan. Catching and surpassing the world’s No 1 team will become an obsession.
Wallaby selection misses
After thrashing England at the World Cup only seven months ago, the Wallabies may have underestimated England’s renaissance. Due to the interminable French Top 14 season, they were unable to select the attacking trident of Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell and Adam Ashley-Cooper and they were shorn of the departing Kurtley Beale through injury.
These absences, of wit, guile and experience negated a Wallaby backline that couldn’t pierce the England backline in Melbourne, despite dominating possession and their scrum lost on points to England’s eight. These were highlighted by the problems in the front row, where two different sets of props have started in the first two Tests. All this gave England considerable encouragement, while the selection of promising rookie, Sean McMahon at No 8, in the absence of David Pocock, did not have the impetus desired.
The securing of Paul Gustard from Saracens in February – Europe’s pre-eminent side – was hailed as a coup, even if there were dissenters who scoffed at his side’s famed ‘Wolfpack’ mentality. Yet after 200 attempted tackles in the Second Test, his powers of motivation look difficult to deny.
The likeable-Geordie is roundly praised by England players and it was interesting to hear he could motivate mentally as well as physically, after he disclosed that he’d read them a poem, The Man in the Glass, by Dale Wimbrow, that asked them to dig deeper than ever before, find an inner-strength and not leave the field with regrets, as he once had. The players duly responded with one of the all-time great defensive performances, with James Haskell, Maro Itoje, Billy and Mako Vunipola and Dylan Hartley all hitting a remarkable 17 tackles, or above.
You can count Test kickers in Owen Farrell’s league on one hand at present. His 24 points in the first Test, with nine kicks landed out of 10, and 18 points in Melbourne, including the match-winning try, tell the story of a player at the peak of his powers. It’s a credit to his sheer bloody-mindedness that he’s kicked on this season to play the best rugby of his career, only months after being written off as a has-been with George Ford deemed the coming man.
I’ve spoken to many Australian commentators, and they’ve said he’s hugely respected by the opposition. After these two Tests, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say he’s feared. Lose discipline within kicking range and Farrell will punish you.
World Cup motivation
Youngsters Maro Itoje, Jack Clifford and Paul Hill are one of a clutch of new faces in England’s matchday squad. England haven’t had to start from scratch. That sorry night at Twickenham, where sections of the crowd booed their own men, was a nadir for the bulk of players and is still fresh in the memory. The chance to exorcise the demons of that night can only have motivated certain squad members in these past weeks – despite public protestations to the contrary.
In James Haskell, Chris Robshaw and Dylan Hartley – who missed the tournament through suspension – England possess their beating heart; the players drove and inspired the squad to new heights through controlled rage.
Winning the PR war
From days before the tour where Eddie Jones mischievously said he wanted a 3-0 Test Series win, so he could stick around and gloat, to the invitation of Rugby League legend Andrew ‘Joey’ Johns to dish out advice at England training, Eddie Jones has, subliminally at least, mounted his own orchestrated campaign to unsettle the Wallabies. He invited one of the most talented men to wear the green and gold in Glen Ella to help him and called out a former Wallaby and broadcaster for disrespecting him at a press conference. In the meanwhile, he damned his old Randwick buddy Michael Cheika with praise.
He even bedded down close to his old Randwick patch, that he knows so well, to settle the players. From day one, it’s been a PR masterstroke. Hell, don’t be surprised if David Campese pops up for an impromptu training session before Saturday. You wouldn’t rule it out.