GIVEN arguably the only negative when reflecting on England’s emphatic autumn international series is something entirely out of their control, this says plenty about just how good this squad has become under Eddie Jones.
They completed a perfect year under the charismatic Australian when beating the Wallabies – quite comfortably in the end – on Saturday.
As they chalked up their 13th straight win of 2016, the sole disappointment perhaps is that there is not just one last fixture this Saturday; what would people give to see this impressive England side now take on the might of world champions New Zealand?
Of course, that is not happening, the All Blacks, maybe with some prescience, turning down the chance to venture to Twickenham this year to face the side closest to their No 1 ranking.
In-form scrum-half Ben Youngs, whose try from a cheeky tap penalty in the 50th minute ensured England would equal the 2002-03 record of 14 successive wins, admitted: “I think it will be a pretty anticipated game when it does come around.
“Are we ready? Of course we are. They are the No 1 team in the world and that’s where we want to get to. If we played them we’d know where we are at.
“Of course we’d love to play them, but the reality is that we don’t for a couple of years.”
How frustrating for everyone. England, who could have been 20-0 down in the first quarter against Australia rather than just 10 points adrift, demonstrated their ability to win through any scenario on Saturday once more, overcoming their sloppy start to produce a devastating second-half performance and easily overturn a 16-13 interval deficit.
Centre Jonathan Joseph finished with two tries and, with a clever kick, created another for Marlan Yarde, the recalled winger who improved as the game developed, while Owen Farrell was impeccable with the boot once more, kicking 15 points.
Australia were left to rue their early profligacy when being utterly dominant – although credit the hosts’ goalline defence, too – and this proved a sobering afternoon to knock back their hopes of a renaissance.
Instead, it is the Red Rose that is flourishing. Youngs, a shining example of someone who has been improved under Jones’s watchful eye, said: “From the moment we rocked up in February and had the first meeting under Eddie I did think this is the guy who can get the best out of this side and he is proving to do so.
“We train at such a high intensity that it is almost above match level; if you can train like that at ease then Test matches should become easier.
“That and winning encourages confidence.
“If you are winning you are naturally going to become more confident every time you take the field and in your ability to perform in different kinds of circumstances.
“Last week (against Argentina) we had a man sent off; this week we were under the cosh for 20 minutes, had no foothold in the game, no possession and were 80 metres from their line for the majority of that time.
“The side keeps adapting and finding ways to come out of it.”
Australia were limited to a Sefanaia Naivalu try inside the seventh minute and, when the game had been lost, another from Sekope Kepu, with Bernard Foley slotting 11 points.
They were also reduced to 14 men late on when winger Dane Haylett-Petty was given one of the softest yellow cards you will see in Test match rugby for a negligible challenge on Mike Brown.
However, having lost for a fourth successive time against England, they clearly have a lot of work to do to catch them up or get close to the All Blacks.
Conversely, have England maybe peaked too soon with the World Cup still three years away?
Youngs, 27, said: “No, I don’t feel that; if we are peaking like this now what are we going to be like in two years’ time?
“I think it’s very exciting. If you look at the average age of the squad we still have tremendous players to come back in.
“The wingers have been outstanding, but we have Ant Watson to come back, Maro (Itoje) and guys like that. It’s very exciting to be part of this squad.”
Youngs was tipped for British Lions honours by Jones afterwards and, with his alacrity and stunning form of late, it would be no surprise to see him face the All Blacks in that jersey at least next year.
There is other business, first, however.
“Okay, we’ve got 14 (wins) now, but there’s nothing really to show for it, nothing at the end of that,” claimed the Leicester star.
“We want to carry on; we’ve a title to defend in the Six Nations and look forward to that now.”
For fans of this increasingly exciting England side, that February date with France cannot come soon enough. Even if that All Blacks fixture must remain on hold.
England: Brown; Yarde, Joseph, Farrell (Sio 67), May; Ford, Youngs (Care 63); M Vunipola (Marler 59), Hartley (George 59), Cole (Snickler 61), Lawes, Kruis (Ewels 73), Robshaw (Harrison 69), Wood, Hughes.
Australia: Folau; Haylett-Petty, Kuridrani, Hodge (Cooper 69), Naivalu (Speight 69); Foley, Phipps (Frisby 69); Sio (Robertson 58), Moore (Latu 73), Kepu (Slipper 73), Douglas (Mumm 61), Simmons, Pocock, Hooper, Timani (McMahon 62).
Referee: Jaco Pepper (South Africa).