Analysis: England come up smelling of roses

It was an autumn of progress for England who appear to be on an upward trajectory heading into the 2019 Six Nations.

It was an autumn of progress for England who appear to be on an upward trajectory heading into the 2019 Six Nations.

The Red Rose finished fifth in this year’s Championship and then lost to South Africa in the summer in what was proving to be a challenging 2018.

At the outset of this autumn, much focus was on their injury list that included both Vunipola brothers, Joe Launchbury, Chris Robshaw, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson.

But Jones’ men rolled up their sleeves and completed a backs-to-the-wall opening victory over South Africa to kick off their autumn on a high.

They then produced their best 20 minutes of the entire autumn to open up a 15-0 lead over the All Blacks in week two before eventually falling to the narrowest of losses.

They bounced back with a much-changed side to down Japan after an early scare and then finished on a real high with an impressive victory over old rivals Australia.

Three from four, with squad depth increasing by the game, and Jones’ England side are back on the straight and narrow.

Stand-out players   Long-viewed as the spiritual leader of this England side, Owen Farrell’s promotion to co-captain alongside Dylan Hartley seemed to bring out the very best in him.

Restored to fly-half where he has worked so many wonders for Saracens, Farrell led by example with his gutsy defence, exemplary goal-kicking and improving attacking work as the autumn progressed.

Farrell’s growing influence and importance was actually best exemplified in the Japan game when he climbed off the bench to ignite a superb second-half comeback to down the Brave Blossoms with ease in the end.

Man of the match that day was Maro Itoje, who looks to be approaching the world-class bracket.

Itoje was one of only three players to start all four autumn games for England and his work in the second row was the cornerstone of their improved pack showing.

Another man to start all four games was Mark Wilson – the other was Elliot Daly – and the back-rower looks set to be a key player moving forward.

His versatility was impressive – starting three games at No.8 and a fourth at openside – while blindside might end up being his best position when Billy Vunipola returns.

Alongside him in the back row Sam Underhill produced a game for the ages against the All Blacks in the No.7 shirt and continued that impressive form for the rest of the autumn.

And in the front row, Kyle Sinckler was at his abrasive best in the tight and the loose and looks set to be England’s scrummaging superstar for the present as well as the future.    Breakthrough stars   Joe Cokanasiga’s try on debut against Japan was a warning shot to the rest of the world.

But his second-half heroics against Australia a week later confirmed he is a potential star of the world game and that England have uncovered yet another back-three diamond.

The Fijian-born powerhouse swatted away would-be Wallaby tacklers at will and provides a natural bulk and offloading ability that Jones does not get from his other wingers.

Up front, the emergence of Ben Moon at loosehead was also a real boost for Jones.

With Mako Vunipola injured, Joe Marler retired and Ellis Genge also not fit, England were deep into their front-row reserves.

But Moon produced an impressive cameo off the bench against South Africa and then started against both New Zealand and Australia.

The 29-year-old has contributed both in the tight and the loose – a thumping hit on Duane Vermeulen a highlight as well as the scrum dominance against the Wallabies – and will now be targeting a place in the matchday squads come the Six Nations.

And last, but by no means least, a special mention for Manu Tuilagi who came off the bench against Australia for his first appearance for England since the 2016 Six Nations.

The Leicester Tigers and British & Irish Lions centre appears to be back close to his bullocking best and could be vital to help Jones solve his midfield conundrum.   What they said   Head coach Eddie Jones: “We want to be our best at the World Cup. This series was a step forward and the Six Nations will be another step forward again.

“I’m worried about Ireland. They’re the top team in Europe now. We want to be the top team in Europe. It’s pretty simple.”

Hooker Jamie George: “There’s a huge amount of confidence within this team now that we can go out and do something special. We’ve always believed it but the way that we’ve performed over the last few weeks has solidified that in our minds.

“That first 20 minutes against the All Blacks probably gave us the belief that, yeah, we can do this, we’re getting somewhere.”   Lock Maro Itoje: “We dipped in it, dipped out of it. The challenge for us is to do it for longer periods.”