Although England’s squad is still largely the same as the one used in last year’s Six Nations, here are the six biggest changes since Eddie Jones took over…
1.The confidence running throughout the whole squad
During Stuart Lancaster’s tenure, players often looked scared of their own shadows during interviews as they sought to avoid any appearance of arrogance. Contrast this to recent interviews with Eddie Jones however, and there is no fear in mentioning terms like “grand slam” and “best in the world”. This confidence has clearly been passed on to the players who have exuded a level of self-assuredness almost bordering on arrogance which is exactly what English rugby has been missing.
2.An indifference to controversial selection decisions
Just a few months ago there were question marks over whether Dylan Hartley would ever play for England again, never mind whether he was a potential captain. Jones however has shown he isn’t afraid to make tough selection decisions as demonstrated by his appointment of Hartley as captain, or the call-up of Tuilagi who has missed out through injury and ill discipline. Jones also showed he wasn’t afraid to make tough calls as he came out fighting in the defence of Joe Marler in the final week.
3.The lineout has become a weapon once again
For some reason England’s set piece seemed to completely disintegrate just before the World Cup kicked off last year. Whilst some of this was in part down to the omission of Dylan Hartley, it did not explain just how bad it had become. Under Jones, Hartley has been re-introduced, whilst Steve Borthwick has turned the line out into a weapon once again. Not only is it solid on England’s put in, but locks Maro Itoje and George Kruis have proven themselves to be more than proficient at disrupting opposition ball.
4.Utilisation of replacements only when necessary
During the World Cup, it seemed almost mandatory that England unleash their bench on the sixty minute mark, often leading to a disruption in team cohesion. Eddie Jones however has proven that he is not afraid to leave players out on the field for the full 80, especially during tight games where replacements may disrupt his side. This was particularly apparent against both Wales and France in the final weeks of the Six Nations as the games hung in the balance, Jones for the most part, stuck with the tried and tested.
5.An overall improvement in defensive patterns
Despite significant numbers of missed tackles in every game, England’s overall defensive display seemed much more efficient throughout the Six Nations as they conceded just four tries, most of which came when they had a man in the bin. Under Paul Gustard, England’s defensive line speed has been impressive as they have shut down the opposition quickly, cutting off the supply of ball out wide. This has made it difficult for teams to score tries, especially when England’s defensive line is properly set.
6.The effectiveness of Vunipola and Robshaw in the back row (for the most part)
Billy Vunipola may have tailed off in the final two games, however this was in large part down to the number of defenders opponents had to commit to stopping him. Prior to the Wales game he was the player of the tournament, and looked a reinvigorated figure, putting behind the difficulties has had in an England shirt over the last 12 months. Chris Robshaw has also looked a man on fire throughout the Six Nations and has been widely hailed as one of the best blindsides in Europe despite the post-World Cup criticism.