Friday 23 March 2018

Brendan Fanning: Man with the Midas touch has tuned up chariot to run sweeter than ever

England prop Dan Cole crashes over for an early try against Australia in the third Test in Sydney. Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters
England prop Dan Cole crashes over for an early try against Australia in the third Test in Sydney. Photo: Jason Reed/Reuters
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

It would be really massive. It would make the world sit up and say: 'Well, maybe England are doing something different now'

That was Eddie Jones on the eve of the first Test in Brisbane, a city where previously England had known nothing other than defeat. It's not that Suncorp is in the same bracket as Eden Park and Ellis Park as the world's toughest venues for away teams, but new ground is new ground. And for Jones to keep the bandwagon rolling he has to be bringing his England team to virgin territories.

Despite its brevity, that journey already is epic: a Grand Slam, followed by beating Wales in a pre-tour money spinner in Twickenham, and then this series win in Australia. Along the way they shifted through the gears from eighth to second in the world rankings.

Yesterday's final instalment in Sydney was a terrific contest, sealed only in the last two minutes. Having got off to a flyer through Dan Cole's try they then had to come from behind three times. At any time that takes self-assurance. In the last game of the season it demands much more.

Our reference point in all of this is the press room at England's HQ on September 26. The mood among our England colleagues that night was a mix of anger and desolation. Chris Robshaw's side had blinked at the key moment against Wales, in a game they had been winning well, and the price to be paid would be enormous. The hacks were fuming about the captain, the coach and the man who had been parachuted into the set-up from rugby league, Sam Burgess.

It reminded us of All Blacks supporters, on prepaid packages, arriving out to Cardiff for the semis and final of the 2007 World Cup only to meet their team heading in the opposite direction. If it was a long fortnight for the Kiwi fans in '07 it was the month from hell for England's media in 2015.

The transformation has presented Eddie Jones as Midas, albeit a revised version for at this stage his early exit from Saracens in 2009 looks more like fiction than fact. And his stints with Australia and Queensland Reds - both of which ended badly - are in the same category. Now he is the mechanic who has almost single-handedly put the chariot back together. And all those moving parts currently are in sync.

In one respect there was a touch of the Munster of old about them yesterday: an ability to remain calm under pressure. To be two tries down after 16 minutes in Brisbane, in a ground where you've never won, was just cause for a bit of panic. Jones reacted swiftly and called ashore Luther Burrell. He didn't need to take any remedial action in Sydney yesterday because in that fortnight England have dotted all their Is and crossed their Ts.

The positive effect of nine from nine under Eddie Jones must be immense. He stuck with Robshaw - who had been vilified in the World Cup - and his man-of-the-match display in the first Test must have given him his most satisfying day in white. He was immense again yesterday.

Across the board Jones is assembling a formidable crew. Second row is an incredibly fertile area in the home countries at the minute, which will make it interesting for the Lions next summer, but Maro Itoje is top of the heap. He is an extraordinary rugby player and typifies the kind of talent coming through their system. As the biggest rugby country in the world you might think this should be a given, but only now do England look like they are on the right track to match the Sanzar nations. This month they sent 59 players off to battle on two fronts: the seniors in Australia and the Saxons in South Africa. They come home this morning with both series squared away and five wins from five games.

Cast your mind back to those nights against Wales and Australia in the World Cup and it's like we're looking at two entirely different operations. Which is exactly what Eddie Jones was looking for.

Sunday Indo Sport

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