Wednesday 11 November 2015: Stuart Lancaster steps down as head coach of England, following the humiliation of going out in the group stage of a home Rugby World Cup. Saturday 12 November 2016: England defeat South Africa in the first of this year’s Autumn Internationals, taking their run of unbeaten games to 11.
The difference? It can only be Eddie Jones, the Australian brought in by the Rugby Football Union as head coach last November, to shake England out of their post-World Cup malaise. “There was no magic wand,” says Will Greenwood, a member of 2003’s World Cup-winning side and now Sky pundit. “Eddie incrementally changed many things, and they have contributed to a spectacular turnaround.”
So what has Jones actually done?
1. Channel the anger
“One of the first things to remember is that Eddie immediately tipped his hat to the squad he inherited from Stuart Lancaster,” says Will Grrenwood. “A 30-man squad with an average age of about 26, some with 40 caps to their name – that’s a cracking squad to inherit. You then throw into the pot that every member of that squad had had to sit through a media battering. He had an experienced squad – and he had an angry squad. They were ready to listen, they were ready to change, and they were ready to do anything to salvage their careers and reputations.”
2. Work harder, work faster
Steve Borthwick, Eddie Jones and Paul Gustard
“Since Eddie’s arrived he’s recruited two wonderful coaches. You only have to watch Steve Borthwick and Paul Gustard operate to see what huge gains they’ve made with the squad in a short time. Eddie has focused on top-quality basics done at high speed. He’s shortened training sessions, but increased the intensity – yes, it’s hurt them a bit in terms of injuries, but he won’t change how he operates.”
3. Give hard men a cuddle
“Eddie brought Dylan Hartley back in from the cold, made him captain, and he’s shouldered a lot of responsibility. Eddie’s also made vice-captains of others in the squad, including Billy Vunipola and Mike Brown. They’re hard men, but sometimes hard men need a cuddle. Giving someone an armband is a metaphorical cuddle!
4. Ride your luck
England v Australia
“England didn’t have to play away in Cardiff or Dublin in this year’s Six Nations. Of their three away games, Italy and France were sides that were on their knees, and that gave them the confidence to go and win in Australia in June. “Eddie’s no fool; he knows a lot of things have gone his way in the first year. That’s not to take away from everything he’s done, but he knows he still wants more from his coaches.
5. Avoid New Zealand
“Historically we’ve had first dibs at playing New Zealand in the autumn series, but there are only so many games the All Blacks can play; they’re being dragged from pillar to post. It’s not our turn to play them, simple as that.
“There is no doubt at the moment that New Zealand are miles ahead of everyone, and England are second best. The Kiwis have just won the Rugby Championship, having played six and won six. It’s insane how good they are. I say that as a patriot – and as an Englishman who can’t wait to play them.”
Watch England v Fiji live on Sky Sports 2 from 2pm (kick-off 2.30pm)