England weren’t at their brilliant best this autumn but they got the job done in all three Test matches – a familiar story under Eddie Jones.
Since destroying Australia on their own patch last summer, England have been consistent enough but without hitting top form. Defeat to Ireland in the final match of this year’s Six Nations, a result that cost England back-to-back Grand Slams, is the only blemish on an otherwise perfect record under Jones.
You can’t knock England too much; you can only beat what is in front of you. Building ahead of the 2019 World Cup is key, as is the eagerly anticipated clash with New Zealand next year, but winning the Six Nations is the number one priority.
For Jones, winning a second Slam in three years is vital – and there is no excuse with two home games against Wales and Ireland. The Australian wants to rewrite the history books in 2018...
At the time of writing, England are as short as 3/4 in 888sport’s rugby union betting markets to win the Six Nations crown in 2018. With a number of talented players set to return from injury, this England squad is only going to get better. Jones has touched on England’s injury issues in the past and healthy competition for places should help the Six Nations favourites to get back to their brilliant best.
Confidence, arrogance and belief are three key traits and England will need all three in order to win the Grand Slam. Without a shadow of a doubt, England are the second best team on the planet – the aura of invincibility is building.
Mako Vunipola was dominant throughout the autumn series, as were Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury. England’s forwards really did step up to the plate.
And then we have those who are almost guaranteed their spot. Chris Robshaw, relishing the chance to focus on his own game without the burden of captaincy, Owen Farrell, Mike Brown and Danny Care are all capable of turning a game on its head. You could almost rank these players as “undroppable” right now, such is their impact and influence to England’s style when on the field.
The hooker debate continues though. Dylan Hartley, with all his experience and leadership skillset, isn’t as talented as Jamie George at the position. But Hartley’s potential inclusion as a starter is about much more than his role as hooker.
If there is one thing that this England side is lacking, it is character. Hartley brings that to the plate whilst George, acting as one of Jones’ “finishers”, has an equally important role off the bench.
The 2019 World Cup is England’s ultimate objective and Jones knows it. Retaining the Six Nations title is a step in the right direction and plenty of punters will fancy the 7/2 available for England to claim a second World Cup success. Should England win the Grand Slam, those odds will shorten – especially as New Zealand were far from assured in games against Wales and Scotland this November.
England’s defeat to Ireland back in March served as a reminder, this side is NOT invincible yet. Fast forward 12 months and we will know a lot more about England’s chances of victory at the 2019 World Cup but for now, Jones must remain focused on the next game.
Opening up with an away trip to Italy is favourable but England cannot afford to take their eye off the ball. A bonus point triumph is an absolute must.
This England side are NOT on New Zealand’s level yet. Eddie Jones has England heading in the right direction though and they have the talent to get there. Consistency is still an issue but that will come in time. Let’s appreciate Jones and his work so far, England look well placed to push hard to another Grand Slam in 2018.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*