Analysis: England ready to flaunt their depth in quest to be the best

Since he first took office at Twickenham, Eddie Jones has made his aim for this England team crystal clear.

Since he first took office at Twickenham, Eddie Jones has made his aim for this England team crystal clear.

In his very first press conference he said: “If I look at England and what we have, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be number one in the world and that’s what we’re working towards.”

With the resources at their disposal and the player base from which they can select, Jones has pulled no punches: being world No.1 is the bare minimum expected of both himself and his team.

But knocking New Zealand from their perch is one of the toughest jobs in world sport, let alone world rugby.

The All Blacks have topped the World Rugby rankings unbroken since 2009 and that decade of dominance will take some toppling.

When the Red Rose went on an 18-Test winning run – equalling the world record – at the start of Jones’ reign, the summit was in view.

But the climb was aborted in 2018 as England slipped to six Test defeats, including five in a row.

But after an autumn of rejuvenation, England have come storming back into 2019 with two bonus-point wins from two to kick off this year’s Guinness Six Nations.

They are back at base camp, staring up at the peak and hoping for another crack at rugby’s Mt. Everest.

And while even a Grand Slam for Jones this year would not be enough to claim top spot from the All Blacks, certainly this weekend’s trip to Cardiff will be a good test of their claims to the throne.

In order to be the best, you have to beat the best – and Wales certainly can stake a claim to be THE in-form team in world rugby.

They have won 11 Tests on the spin, equalling their national record that has stood for more than a century.

In that run they have downed the Springboks twice – who beat England last summer – ended a 13-Test hoodoo against the Wallabies and catapulted themselves into contention for this year’s Championship in Warren Gatland’s final year in charge.

The last two clashes between these two sides in the Guinness Six Nations have been absolute barn-burners, and England have edged them both.

Complete the hat-trick in Cardiff on Saturday night, and England’s Red Rose can truly be said to be back in bloom.

One of the All Blacks biggest strengths that has kept them top of the pile for ten years has been their ability to bring in back-ups when injury strikes.

Jones has been working hard in his three years at the helm to help England match that squad depth.

And his handiwork is certainly going to be put to the test this weekend.

At the outset of the Championship much of the focus was on how many players England had fit at long last – most notably the Vunipola brothers and Manu Tuilagi, who had never before started a Test together as a trio.

However, two games in, and the focus is now on whether England can match their brilliance of the opening two rounds in the face of adversity.

Mako Vunipola’s ankle injury means he will miss the rest of the Championship, can Ben Moon and Ellis Genge, or indeed Alec Hepburn match what was a jaw-dropping statistical start to the Championship from the Saracens man?

Then in the second row, England will still be without Maro Itoje in Cardiff – Courtney Lawes stepped up to the plate in Le Crunch but this Saturday will be a huge challenge once more.

Throw in the news that Chris Ashton will also miss the clash with a calf problem and now Jones has a chance to really see what his back-ups can offer.

Jack Nowell and Joe Cokanasiga are able deputies for Ashton, and on the face of things England appear well-stocked as Jones has slowly but surely introduced new faces.

But matches at the Principality Stadium are not won on paper and this England side, let us not forget, is hardly packed with veterans.

Particularly up front, where they look likely to name a front eight of which five have never started in Cardiff before.

Meanwhile 250 caps worth of England caps were in action for Harlequins this weekend in the form of the overlooked Chris Robshaw, Danny Care and Mike Brown, as well as the recently-retired Joe Marler.

Throw in the still-injured Dylan Hartley as an absentee, and England’s current four-match winning run that they take to Cardiff starts to look like an uptick rather than a rise.

But when does a spike become a trend? A win in front of a baying Welsh crowd should go a long way to cementing their status.