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England go from strength to strength in a golden autumn

December 4, 2017

Another year, another time of triumph: 2017 has seen England win a second successive Six Nations, equal the world record of 19 straight wins set just a year earlier by the All Blacks, win both Tests on tour against Argentina, and then finish the year with a trio of wins in the Old Mutual Autumn Internationals at Twickenham. The RBS Six Nations - featuring home games against Wales and Ireland - can't come quick enough. 

It all amounts to a huge contrast with the doom and gloom that had enveloped English rugby after the 2015 World Cup. The arrival of Eddie Jones has clearly made a huge difference, and it may come as no surprise that he has just won the World Rugby awards coach of the year prize.

The fact that none of the player prizes went to Englishmen might be seen as a slight negative, although the nominations of Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell accurately reflected their standing in the sport as truly world class talents. If player of the year Beauden Barratt and emerging player of the year Rieko Ioane reflect the continuing dominance of the All Blacks, the fact remains that New Zealand know full well where the biggest challenge to their dominance is coming from.

The first match of the autumn was not England's best performance, as they huffed and puffed to a 21-8 win over an Argentina side that not only lost to England last summer, but finished rock bottom of the Rugby Championship after losing every game. 

Even so, the game was useful in allowing Jones to experiment. A key feature of the season was the way the coach was able to introduce more players and try out more ways of approaching games, in order to ensure England have a myriad of options as the 2019 World Cup approaches. This included regular captain Dylan Hartley starting on the bench against the Pumas, while Farrell and Itoje were rested.

With 12 players missing, what Jones described as a "grindathon" may have been a rather predictable outcome. But his management of player workloads and exploration of strength in depth was still a useful exercise. 

Moreover, the team put out against Australia was the strongest available and it delivered an emphatic 30-6 hammering of the Wallabies, a fifth win out of five for Jones against his countrymen. Having ended the southern hemisphere season in style with a win over New Zealand, Australia travelled north with a hope that was soon snuffed out.

True, the Wallabies could point to three close decisions for the television match official that went against them, leading to two tries being disallowed while Elliot Daly's second half score for England stood after the official agreed the ball had not gone out of play. 

Even so, the way England's replacements finished off a tiring Aussie side - with Jonathan Joseph, Jonny May and Danny Care all scoring later tries - showed that over 80 minutes the capacity of Jones's side to wear opponents down before he sends for his "finishers" is a potent combination.

The autumn was rounded off with an entertaining 48-14 win over Samoa to maintain a record of 22 wins and just one defeat under Jones. If England can follow this with a first hat-trick of Six nations titles, even the All Blacks will be fearful.

Image: Getty, from Keith Prowse subscription

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