This time last year, Eddie Jones had just done the unthinkable. He had led a cast of nobodies (no disrespect intended to Japan) to victory over South Africa in the World Cup – arguably the biggest shock in rugby union’s history.
Now he finds himself with the best winning percentage as an England head coach since Sir Clive Woodward, with a 100% record.
Who would have thought England, a team who capitulated as World Cup hosts under Stuart Lancaster, would begin a new era under Jones with nine wins out of nine.
It is time for England fans to truly believe something big is happening.
With England still the only Northern Hemisphere team to have won the World Cup, beating Australia in their own backyard in 2003, many thought that finest hour was unrepeatable.
Fair enough, that they made the final in France 2007, but they were humbled by Saturday’s opponents South Africa. However, this clash has a build-up that’s completely different to that game nine years ago.
Time to take advantage
England come into this game looking like one of the best teams in the world right now.
Ireland’s sensational 40-29 win over New Zealand in Chicago last weekend showed the All Blacks do actually have some weaknesses, and it’s time for England to take advantage.
England go into the autumn internationals ranked the second-best team in the world, and it is up to them to make the biggest statement possible.
This will be one of Eddie Jones’ biggest tests.
The build-up to these matches has certainly been a tough one, and England’s summer whitewashing of Australia down under has created great expectations.
Jones will be without Manu Tuilagi, James Haskell, Sam Jones and Anthony Watson – all out of the picture with long-term injuries.
Although England have amazing depth in many positions, there is no denying that the players out injured would have had a key role this autumn. Watson, for one, has scored 70 points in 24 games.
Jones has had to rethink his strategy, drafting in Wasps’ Elliot Daly for his full Test debut at outside centre, Jonathan Joseph being dropped in the process. This is a clear statement from Jones, who who has previously said he will do what is necessary to get the win.
Jones has also said in the buildup to Saturday’s Twickenham clash: “I told the players…. If you are not physical you need to play volleyball – rugby is a physical sport.”
It’s clear to see what Jones expects from his players in the face of the famed brute force of the Springboks.
Mako Vunipola has voiced the ideology that Jones has enforced, saying: “The biggest message is not being happy with where we are at the moment, we have to keep improving every time we go out on the pitch. We want to improve every day.”
This just goes to show how much has happened with the team since the dreadful World Cup campaign just over a year ago.
This is a different England side that are not afraid to be physical, who want to be the best, and know they can achieve their aim.
Jones has instantly made his mark, bringing in experienced faces to his coaching staff, something that made a big story under Lancaster’s reign, for the wrong reasons.
He has had short-term input for his backs from Australian legend Glen Ella, George Smith has been helping out the back rows, and the fly-halves from England legend Jonny Wilkinson.
The effect that both Jones’ strengthening of the England team, and the success of clubs such as Saracens, has seen an amazing improvement.
Take into account that only two English players were shortlisted for the IRB’s World Rugby Player of the year in the past 12 years; this year there are three alone.
“With South Africa in a fragile state of mind, England can get off to a flyer”
Itoje, Billy Vunipola and Owen Farrell have all been nominated, following their stellar performances at international and club level.
The matches against South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and Australia are the perfect opportunity for England to show what they are really about, that the Jones honeymoon isn’t over just yet.
With South Africa in a fragile state of mind, England can get off to a flyer.
Many fans will be licking their lips at this clash, and it’s clear that England fans finally have something to smile about.
Depending on the outcome of these matches and next year’s Six Nations, people will be starting to ask whether 2019, when Japan host the World Cup, could be England’s year.
But let it sink in that when that World Cup comes around, it will have been 16 years since we triumphed over Australia.