State of the Nation - Rugby Union: All Blacks will test England credentials

England head coach Eddie Jones: Has eyes on World Cup.
England head coach Eddie Jones: Has eyes on World Cup.
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IT seems churlish to suggest given their near impeccable record but England really must do better in 2018 if they are to achieve arguably their biggest goal – beating the All Blacks.

Remarkably, since taking the helm, head coach Eddie Jones has overseen 22 wins from 23 Tests over the last two calendar years.

His solitary defeat in that run was the 13-9 loss against Dublin last March which denied them a second successive Six Nations grand slam, although not the championship.

For all their winning culture, though, there have been some scrappy victories along the way so Jones will be keen to see his squad raise the bar further in 2018 as they step up preparations for next year’s World Cup.

The date everyone has penned into their diary, of course, is Saturday, November 10, when, at last, England do finally play world champions New Zealand.

For one reason or another, the Red Rose have not faced the All Blacks since 2014, an irritating situation denying fans the chance to witness the sport’s best two sides go head-to-head.

Indeed, although the 2017 autumn internationals did little to whet the appetite – Argentina, Samoa and Australia were the visitors to Twickenham – this year’s series is one to behold.

Dave Craven

Clearly, it is the game all rugby-lovers want to see: the back-to-back world champions and No 1 ranked side versus the sport’s impressive No 2 rated team, who have defeated every opponent at least once since Jones took command.

The only side England have not faced is the All Blacks and it will be a fascinating battle when that date does eventually arrive.

Indeed, although the 2017 autumn internationals did little to whet the appetite – Argentina, Samoa and Australia were the visitors to Twickenham – this year’s series is one to behold.

Not only do Steve Hansen’s side venture to HQ but the other leading southern hemisphere teams, Australia and South Africa do, too, offering a perfect chance to gauge where England are ahead of the 2019 World Cup.

Furthermore, for the first time Japan – who Jones led to World Cup heroics in 2015 – are also featuring at Twickenham, ahead of hosting the global tournament next year.

Before all of that, though, there is the small matter of the Six Nations which will be another crucial stepping stone to Jones’s hopes of seeing his side become “bullet-proof” in time for the 2019 main event.

He will be looking for more ruthless performances with England, at times, still lacking the requisite efficiency with ball in hand to really punish teams as heavily as they could.

They will need to be clinical against the All Blacks even taking into account the world champions have just had their worst year since 2009, suffering two defeats and one draw in 14 Tests last year.

Jones wants to have overhauled them as the sport’s No 1 ranked team when heading into the World Cup and to do that standards have to get even better.

Ideally, England must lift the Six Nations crown again which, in turn, would create some history of its own.

Strangely, no side in the competition’s history including as the Five Nations – or even dating back to the days of the Home Nations which started in 1883 – has ever won three successive titles outright.

Thereafter, there is an intriguing summer tour to South Africa which will give some of England’s players further new and valuable experience and it will be interesting to see how Jones’s squad selection evolves during the next 12 months.

Will captain Dylan Hartley retain the No 2 jersey under pressure from Jamie George? After injuries and discipline issues, will Manu Tuilagi finally get to play for England again for the first time since March, 2016?

What of the surprise picks in this week’s training camp in Brighton – Newcastle Falcons flanker Gary Graham and the Bath prop Beno Obano?

Can either be a late bolter into Jones’s master-plan?