With the June internationals now done and dusted, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, England.
Sorry for the obvious cliché, but England’s rose has bloomed once more after a 3-0 triumphant series against Australia.
We were cautious about England even winning the Test series back at the end of the Six Nations after they won the Grand Slam, given that England had only ever won three times in 47 years before in Australia, and never in Brisbane. The start to the Eddie Jones era had gone so well but surely it couldn’t last.
Here we are though heading into July with England having won nine games out of nine since Jones took the wheel.
Almost everything he has tried has worked, and when it hasn’t as with the selections of Luther Burrell and Teimana Harrison in the first and third Tests, he hasn’t hesitated to go with his gut and make changes regardless of the time on the clock.
Jones the merciless then, but what about Jones the motivator? The Vunipola brothers, Chris Robshaw and James Haskell have all torn through mountains of work on this tour. The arm went round George Ford before England flew out and look how he has performed since. The whole squad are brimming with determination, coming most of all from the captain Dylan Hartley.
Jones and his coaching staff including Steve Borthwick and Paul Gustard are turning good players into better versions of themselves, and it’s no coincidence that England’s set-piece and defence are the biggests areas of improvement since the turn of the year when they came on board.
There’s something very English about the way this side have won through power upfront and by tightening up their defence by adapting to Gustard’s system, combined with Owen Farrell’s ever-improving goalkicking.
That’s not to say they are a boring side, because we’ve seen enough from England’s back three and Jonathan Joseph to know they can cut loose when required. Anthony Watson and Jack Nowell are coiled springs out wide, patiently waiting for their chance.
Before heading to Australia the message was to leave out both Robshaw and Haskell to quicken up England’s back row in an effort to match the Wallabies, but England would have lost that battle. They made history down under by playing and winning their way.
What next then? England have certainly earned a rest after one of the longest seasons in history, and won’t play again until November 12 when they face the Springboks at Twickenham in the first of four Tests.
Do they have world class players yet? Not quite, although Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola are on the right path.
England are now number two in the world but you sense the real work is only just beginning. Conceding 40 points in the third Test was a reminder they’re far from perfect, and how they respond to a first loss will be interesting.
Jones and England have their sights set high, and why not? The gap between number one and number two in the world is incredibly large, but England at least look ready to give narrowing it a go.
The Saxons’ winning series against South Africa ‘A’ and a third World Rugby U20 Championship title in four years for the junior side all mean that English rugby is in a good place, and considerably better than last October.
Read the rest of our State of the Nation pieces following the June Tests right here.