Tuesday 21 March 2017

England's Perfect Year

England - A Perfect Year

We look back at the 2016 season as Eddie Jones takes the reigns following the car crash that was the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Sitting in the Twickenham stands watching England control the game against Wales at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, we thought, this is a team that could do well. Then the 60 minute mark approaches, changes for changes' sake and suddenly England have lost the game and with it, probably a path to the knockout stages.

The 'Group of Death' did as expected, but not to Wales, no, to England, at their home world cup!

Change was needed, and needed fast. Enter the man who'd just lead Japan to victory over South Africa - Eddie Jones. A glittering coaching career around the world and now the new - first ever overseas - coach for England. 

First stop - culling!

In one of his first acts in charge, Eddie dropped 9 members of Stuart Lancaster's world cup squad (7 from the match day setup).

Keiren Brookes
David Wilson

Rob Webber
Tom Youngs
Geoff Parling

Ben Morgan
Richard Wigglesworth

Brad Barritt

and then there was Alex Goode. 

Alex managed to survive 12 months under Eddie Jones, a year in which he was named premiership player of the season, but Eddie cracked the whip again in January and Goode was axed from the 2017 Six Nations squad. Perhaps we'll see him back for the Argentina tour, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

It was clear that Eddie Jones was a man that liked to develop young talent and a pool of England U20's that had won 2 of the last 3 World Cup's isn't a bad place to start looking. 

Enter Maro Itoje: now an essential part of the England setup and probable Lion just one example of the talent on the fringes (all be it, a particularly good example).

He didn't stop with the players either. Despite publicly giving them an opportunity to apply for their jobs again, Eddie also axed the remainder of Stuart Lancaster's coaching staff replacing Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt with Paul Gustard, Steve Borthwick (a vital part of his Japan coaching team) and Neal Hatley. 

Interestingly, in September 2016, Jones appointed former world cup winner Richard Hill, as England team manager. A role that rugby is unaccustomed to. Of him, he said "Richard's responsibilities will range from maintaining England Rugby's internal and external relationships to providing mentoring and support for players and management. It is important we use the knowledge of former international players and keep a historical link with the past" whatever that means! But Hill is a legend, he's done what we want these boys to do, so we welcome him gladly.

In January, 2016, Eddie made another big move, demoting captain Chris Robshaw and handing the armband to "rugby bad boy" Dylan Hartley. As you can imagine, this caused quite a media stir, but it was an interesting and an exciting move by the Aussie, that as we now know, turned out to be a great call. Robshaw was retained in the back row on form, and there's no question, that form has only improved for the now unburdened ex-captain.

Fast forward a few months and England's Six Nations campaign was spotless, handing them their first grand slam in 13 years. From there they went on to complete a record 3-0 series white wash in Australia, a 4-0 Autumn international series including a first win against South Africa in 10 years as well as a fourth consecutive victory against Australia in as many months to culminate in an emphatic unbeaten year and a perfect season for Eddie Jones and his new England setup.

Next stop, the 2017 Six Nations Championship and records for the taking. A first double grand slam a real possibility, and with it a record breaking 19 game win streak to usurp the all-blacks. 

England opened their account with an ugly win against France (19-16) at Twickenham. They then travelled to the Millenium Principality Stadium to face Wales. A second English victory (21-16) and 8 points on the table. Game three saw England host Italy and despite first half problems, a healthy 36-15 victory secured the all important bonus point and took their tally to 13. Next up was Scotland. Not only would a victory see England match the Kiwi record of 18 straight wins, but they had a massive point to prove and critics to answer, so nothing but perfection would do. Perfection it was! Fast and furious....England posted a record breaking 61 points in their 61-21 victory matching their existing winning margin record of 40, handing them a second bonus point and securing the 2017 championship title.

Only Ireland stood between them and history, but on the 18th March, 2017 in poor conditions and away in Dublin, England simply couldn't come up with the goods.  A clinical Ireland ensured that England's chances were limited and an Irish victory (13-9) stopped them in their tracks. 

Next up, England head to Argentina for their summer tour. With it being a Lions year, and a number of England players expected to be involved in New Zealand, this will be a great opportunity for Eddie Jones to blood some more youngsters and we'll certainly be around to witness it.

We still believe England will win the World Cup in 2019.

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