The England rugby team hit a new low during the 2015 World Cup after becoming the first host nation to bow out of the tournament in the group stages.
Whilst it was far from the disaster some would have you believe, it certainly led to a fair bit of disillusionment amongst fans who were left bewildered at how a team that had performed so well in the Six Nations earlier that year had suddenly lost it’s way in such dramatic fashion. The World Cup failure led to the departure of the entire England coaching staff, whilst there were plenty of fingers pointed at those at the very top of the RFU food chain.
Fortunately Ian Ritchie and co acted swiftly to arrange for Eddie Jones’ Stormers contract to be terminated so he could come to Twickenham. Whilst the appointment was met with positivity by most, few fans went into the 2016 Six Nations with hopes of anything more than a mid-table finish with a clear demonstration of progression during the latter games of the tournament given the way the side had been turned over during the Rugby World Cup.
Somehow, despite utilising largely the same group of players, Jones has managed to deliver a Six Nations championship with his side on course for a Grand Slam. Whilst fans have questioned some of the selection decisions, and raised concerns over some of the play, for the most part there is once again a feeling of optimism surrounding England as they begin to cast one eye ahead to this summer’s tour of Australia.
Eddie Jones’ impact on English rugby has been about much more than just the results however. Under Stuart Lancaster, for all the good he did in restoring some respect in the side, there was always an air of feeling slightly embarrassed about being English. The focus on respect and discipline was vital given the fallout of the 2011 World Cup campaign, however it also led to fans and players becoming a little coy about the national side.
In stark contrast, despite being Australian, Jones has managed to give England a swagger and confidence in themselves that is now being reflected in the support they are receiving. His press conferences couldn’t be further from those seen under Stuart Lancaster. The fact he feels so comfortable discussing a potential Grand Slam shows just enough of a hint of the arrogance that England have perhaps been lacking the last few years.
At the end of the day, this is England – everyone is meant to hate us, and under Lancaster we can worryingly close to becoming a likeable team – that is simply not the way it is meant to be. Inevitably, the labels of the “arrogant English” aren’t too far away, but perhaps this is exactly what the side needed. Look back to 2003 and everybody hated England – it often seems the team performs best when it seems everyone is against him.
This change in attitude has also ensured Jones hasn’t been afraid to make some bold choices that we almost certainly wouldn’t have seen during Lancaster’s reign. The appointment of Dylan Hartley as captain now looks like a solid decision as the hooker has been the model professional during the Six Nations so far.