State of the Nation - Rugby union: Chastened England starting at ‘ground zero’ again

England players stand dejected after losing to Australia in the World Cup group phase.
England players stand dejected after losing to Australia in the World Cup group phase.
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World rugby is cyclical. For the elite, the buck stops every four years in autumn, in the final throes of a World Cup.

For England, the key date comes a few months later, traditionally January when the rebuild begins.

At the start of 2012 Stuart Lancaster chose Leeds as the starting point for the reboot between national team and the public.

This month, Eddie Jones will do so from the Red Rose’s national headquarters at Pennyhill Park, a state-of-the-art facility updated for a home World Cup that ironically was used by other nations for the knockout stages.

The hosts, by then, were long gone. Beaten and bloodied, their morale shattered by defeats to Wales and Australia.

The 2015 Rugby World Cup has come to be widely regarded as the best yet, and equally, the biggest opportunity missed for this country. The wounds from that chastening experience have yet to heal.

Certainly the fallout is far from finished. A new broom may have been swept through the coaching staff – Lancaster fell on his sword while his lieutenants Graham Rowntree, Andy Farrell and Mike Catt needed a little more persuading, before finally packing their bags – but that is only the start.

In has come Jones, a serial achiever at international level, just what the Rugby Football Union wanted – and something they did not deliver on in the wake of the 2011 debacle.

Cynics would argue his appointment comes four years too late, but that would ignore the amount of good that Lancaster did. But the not-so good came on the pitch and Jones has yet to decide the players on which his tenure will be shaped.

Even Chris Robshaw, the oft-maligned standard-bearer for the Lancaster regime has yet to be informed whether he will retain his place in the team, let alone the captaincy.

Jones will sit down in the coming days with his new coaching team of Steve Borthwick, Paul Gustard and Otley-born Ian Peel, and decide which players will start the rebuilding on the pitch in a Six Nations tournament that gets underway in just six weeks.

Expect new faces, the reintroduction of some like Leeds-born Danny Care, and the quiet jettisoning of others.

The start of a new World Cup cycle is becoming an all-too familiar ground zero for England.