What a difference nine months make. Last autumn, the England rugby team was on its knees. Questionable selectorial decisions, rumours of dissension in the camp and then the ignominy of being dumped out of the World Cup in the group stage, had reduced the team to a laughing stock.
Yesterday, England gained their first series win in the southern hemisphere with a 23-7 victory over Australia in the second test in Melbourne. The scoreline looks comfortable but this was an epic.
With a narrow 13-7 lead for nearly all of the second half, England withstood an endless gold and green onslaught on their own goal line. It was relentless. Time and again the Wallabies were held up inches from the white line. With under 30% territory and possession and a staggering 200 tackle count, England simply refused to be breached. It was only in the dying minutes that the siege was lifted and Owen Farrell scored the try that made the game safe.
BECOME A WRITER
Do you have what it takes? Sign up today and send over your 250 word test article: http://gms.to/haveyoursay3
This tremendous win followed on from the week before in Brisbane where England looked as if they were going to be blown away in the first 15 minutes before doggedly fighting their way back to take the game 39-28.
In the last few months, England have won a Grand Slam in the Six Nations, easily beaten Wales in a friendly at Twickenham with a weakened side and been triumphant in Australia. Eight victories on the reel have catapulted them from eighth to second in the world rankings.
If one looks at the players involved in the heroic achievement down under, it's a pretty similar squad to the one that took part in the World Cup debacle. How has this amazing transformation come about? Step forward, Eddie Jones.
The decision of the RFU to finally follow the example of the other home unions and appoint an Antipodean coach has paid off, big time.
The contrast in personalities between Jones and his predecessor, Stuart Lancaster, couldn't be starker. Lancaster is a model of English reserve. Jones, with his distinctive drawl, is your archetypal brash Aussie.
There is nothing quiet or modest about him. He seems to delight in getting under the skin of the opposition. But since his appointment, we have seen that Eddie Jones is much more than a wind-up merchant.
First of all, there was his very brave call in making Dylan Hartley captain of the side. This is a man who has been banned for various misdemeanours for 54 weeks of his career. His serial offending cost him a place on a British and Irish Lions tour in 2013 and effectively ruled him out of last year's World Cup.
Jones wanted someone with a passionate and aggressive approach to lead his team and in Hartley, a man who spent the first 16 years of his life growing up in New Zealand, he seems to have made an inspired choice.
Most rugby folk believed that Chris Robshaw, England captain for the World Cup and universally blamed for not kicking for goal in that painful Wales match, would be for the chop.
Instead, Jones moved him from open to blindside wing forward, a much more natural position for him, and he was outstanding in Melbourne.
Even more scintillating has been the form of James Haskell, the old man of the party, at open side. Haskell was quoted as saying after the first test: "Eddie treats the boys very fairly and understands that in professional sport you have to talk to people in different ways. He knows how to get the best out of people and knows that some people need the carrot and others the stick. I'm more of a carrot man."
To be a great Head Coach in any game you have to be able to make brave and timely decisions even if they appear harsh at the time.
In the first test in Brisbane, Luther Burrell had started at inside centre with Farrell at stand off. Jones could see that England's defensive press wasn't working so after 30 minutes he "hooked" Burrell, moved Farrell to inside centre and brought on George Ford at stand off. It was a masterstroke.
Ford had a hand in two England tries, first, with a monster pass to put Marlon Yarde away and then in the dying moments with a delightful grubber kick that Jack Nowell latched onto, to seal the game.
The England team is in a great place at the moment. To have two world-class locks like Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury starting on the bench shows incredible strength in depth.
In the backs, there are talents like Henry Slade and Alex Goode knocking on the door. That's not to mention, the forgotten man of English rugby, Danny Cipriani, who has been part of a successful tour with the "second team," the Saxons, to South Africa. In Maro Itoje they have someone, who if he stays fit and healthy, will become a sporting legend.
But Eddie Jones isn't happy being second best in the world. He wants to take the mantle of top dogs from the All Blacks. Anyone who has watched them dismantling Wales in the current series will realise what a tall order that is.
However, he now has England playing with the fire, intensity and most of all the self-belief of a southern hemisphere side and he might just pull it off.News Now - Sport News