In Depth

England v Australia: Eddie Jones wakes the sleeping giant

Aussie coach transforms team from laughing stock to conquerors in an astonishing display in Melbourne

By Gavin Mortimer

Nine months ago, English rugby had reached rock bottom. Beaten by Wales one week, they were then humiliated by Australia at Twickenham, the 33-13 thrashing not only their heaviest home defeat to the Wallabies, but the result that dumped England out of their own World Cup. 

It was a first. Never in the 28-year-history of the World Cup had the host nation failed to progress from the group stage. England were a laughing stock.

Not anymore. On Saturday, England produced an astonishing display to overpower Australia for the second time in a week and clinch their first-ever series win against one of the big southern hemisphere nations in their own back yard.

The transformation has been nothing sort of astonishing and must be attributed to one man - new coach Eddie Jones.

After the World Cup debacle, the Rugby Football Union knew they had to act. They sacked head coach Stuart Lancaster and all those associated with him and brought in an Aussie.

Eddie Jones is everything Lancaster wasn't. He's a world-class coach, first and foremost, but he speaks plainly and pithily, avoiding the politically-correct business speak so beloved of his predecessor. He's also a man-manager par excellence and in the space of a few months, players who previously struggled to make much of an impression in the Test arena have become world-class.

In last week's first Test win against Australia, it was James Haskell - long derided as not good enough at this level - who won the man of the match award. In Saturday's series-clinching victory, it was the other flanker, Chris Robshaw, who got the nod as the best player in what was his 50th appearance for his country.

It capped a remarkable turnaround in his fortunes. No one came in for as much criticism as Robshaw after the World Cup debacle - a poor player and a worse captain was the general consensus and when Jones stripped the 30-year-old of the captaincy, he was never expected to be seen in an England shirt again.

Now he's not only wearing one, he's playing the best rugby of his career as an indispensable member of an England pack that steamrollered the opposition in winning the Grand Slam in March and which has now crushed the life out of Australia.

Saturday's 23-7 win - England's eighth successive victory under Jones - has wrapped up the three-match series and sent shockwaves through the rugby world.

It was achieved on the back of a defensive performance that was nothing short of extraordinary. England made more than 200 tackles, three times that of their opponents, and while the Aussies spurned a couple of kickable penalties in the second half, they never came up with the creativity to break through the white line that stretched across the Melbourne pitch.

Then, having soaked up wave after wave of Australian attacks, the tourists had the temerity to score a breakaway try on 75 minutes to give the scoreline a gloss that will hurt their hosts for a long time to come.

The future promises even greater success, regardless of the outcome of next Saturday's third and final Test. Much as Jones wants to whitewash his countrymen, he also recognises that several of his players are spent. How could they not be after their heroics in Melbourne? So he's expected to make several changes, resting the likes of Haskell, Dan Cole and perhaps even the captain, Dylan Hartley. But they'll all be raring to go in the autumn, when they host South Africa, Fiji, Argentina and Australia at Twickenham

Win all four of those - and on the basis of their performances of last six months they should - and England will be confirmed as the second-best team in the world. 

The best are the All Blacks and until the two meet, England will remain in their shadow. Nevertheless, the New Zealanders will be worried by what they've seen of the English this year.

For decades, England were considered the sleeping giants of world rugby. But they rose from their slumber under Clive Woodward to win the 2003 World Cup. That done, they settled down for another long nap.

Now, a small hard-nosed Australia has kicked them awake once more.

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