State of the Nation: England

Date published: March 30 2016

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As we do at the end of a major tournament, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Last up, England.

Winning a Grand Slam after slightly more than 100 days in charge? You'd forgive Eddie Jones for finding this all a little easy.

Luckily the sharp-tongued Australian is no mug. Jones after winning the title recognised the foundations laid down by the Stuart Lancaster era before him – after all the majority of England's starting XV had been blooded under the previous regime.

Jones however, along with his assistants, Paul Gustard and Steve Borthwick, have been the catalyst, injection confidence into a young group with an average age of 24 and making them feel it ease.

Getting England to walk with a swagger again has marked a dramatic change in attitude from when they left their own World Cup party with hunched shoulders.

Their set-piece is now a force again and the defence is faster, notably stifling Wales in that strange first half at Twickenham.

Two flaws were England's failure to convert their catalogue of chances into more tries along with major indiscipline. But even with those setbacks they were comfortably the best side in a poor Six Nations championship, and more than deserving winners.

Having to wait 13 years for a Grand Slam turned a molehill into Everest, and the truth is that now England are on top the expectations around what they can achieve have also risen.

England's four best players in the tournament – Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Billy Vunipola and Anthony Watson – are all young enough to be developed into world class talents.

Kruis scandalously was not even included on the shortlist for the Six Nations Player of the Championship, an award he had real claims to win after adding athleticism and bite to running England's lineout.

The appointment of Dylan Hartley as captain was a success that few predicted, or some even wanted, but his influence was missed during the World Cup and it showed throughout the tournament, even if his actual play was only described by Jones as "inadequate".

England's feel-good story of course was the renaissance of Chris Robshaw at blindside flanker after his Test career looked over.

The '6 1/2' shirts in the Stade de France changing rooms with James Haskell were a nice touch, and the duo worked tirelessly on both sides of the ball to free up Billy Vunipola to carry his way to three Man of the Match awards.

A fetcher is still required, Jack Clifford looks more like a six or a number eight, as Matt Kvesic and the Ospreys' Sam Underhill wait in the wings for a chance.

Australia might be their best moment to impress, and Jones faces a dilemma when it comes to selection.

Three Tests against the Wallabies come at the end of a long season which started with World Cup pre-season training back in July.

Does Jones take all of his best players on a gruelling tour trying to build off the Grand Slam euphoria, to a country where England have only won three Tests ever before?

Or is now the time to give an extended run to the likes of Jamie George, Paul Hill, Clifford, Henry Slade, Ollie Devoto and Watson at full-back amongst others, perhaps even Ben Te'o.

The Australia has six weeks to watch the rest of the Premiership season unfold before deciding who's rested and who goes, for a series which looks like the pick of the June tours.

It has been quite the start, but there are bumps (and an inevitable first defeat) to come and the lack of real competition in this year's Six Nations shouldn't be ignored.

Win a series in Australia though and the appointment of Jones really will be a masterstroke. These though are early days.

by Ben Coles

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