Analysis: Evolving England on an upward trajectory once more

Elite sport is a rollercoaster of peaks and troughs so, after an almost unblemished beginning to his time as England boss, perhaps Eddie Jones was due a slight dip.

Elite sport is a rollercoaster of peaks and troughs so, after an almost unblemished beginning to his time as England boss, perhaps Eddie Jones was due a slight dip.

Seventeen consecutive wins, a Six Nations Grand Slam, a second Championship title, an entire calendar year unbeaten, a 3-0 series win over the Wallabies in Australia and being named World Rugby coach of the year – if writers had penned the script to the start of Jones’ England tenure, it would have been rubbished as too much of a fairytale.

But then came the dip; a fifth-placed 2018 Six Nations finish and a testing summer tour.

Yet the rollercoaster now appears to be heading upwards once more as autumn wins over South Africa and Japan, added to the stirring performance in defeat to New Zealand, have injected confidence – and Saturday’s clash with Australia provides the Red Rose with a golden opportunity to drive their resurgence home.

Following the June Bloemfontein defeat to South Africa, Jones’ men had lost five Tests on the trot but the record now shows three wins in four, with the chance to improve that figure further arriving against Australia this weekend.

“They’ve (Australia) had a tough year, a bit like us. It’s their last game of the year, as it is ours, so we’ll both be looking for a winning performance,” said Jones.

“Cheiks (Michael Cheika); he’s my old mate. He’s always at his best when they are under pressure.

“He loves that. He’s a street-fighter, so it does make them dangerous but at the same time, we’ve had a tough year too and we don’t mind a scrap either, so it should be a good scrap.”

The chance is now there to end 2018 on a high and it’s a chance England will feel confident of taking, having won all five Tests against the Wallabies since Jones took charge – Ben Youngs and Courtney Lawes both have nine England wins against Australia.

Jones is set to duke it out with his old mate from Randwick Rugby Club once again, the two countries having last met this time last year as England triumphed 30-6 at Twickenham.

Since then, the Wallabies have not exactly had a spring in their step, losing eight of 12 Tests this year, including home defeats to Ireland and Argentina.

“All I know is they had a good win (against Italy) and they’ll be ready for the battle,” Jones added.

“I think they understand where we’re strong and we understand where they’re strong. It’s going to be a brutal game.”

And although England are firmly back on the front foot, Jones will surely be driving his team on towards an 80-minute performance against the men in green and gold after a patchy display against the wonderfully heroic Brave Blossoms.

At Twickenham on Saturday, England found themselves 15-10 down at half-time but awoke in the second half, just as they had done against South Africa a fortnight earlier.

Against the All Blacks, England’s periods of dominance came at the beginning and end of the 80, with a ruthless full-match display desired by the Twickenham crowds this weekend.

If this new-look England were to beat Australia on Saturday, it would not only signal a turnaround in results but also confirm their tactical evolution since the 2018 Six Nations.

One of the biggest changes has been at outside-half, with Owen Farrell starting four Six Nations matches at centre but having since moved inside to No.10 against the All Blacks and Springboks.

“He (Farrell) influences the game with his touches,” said Australia scrum-half Will Genia, in line to earn his 100th cap on Saturday.

“He’s pretty aggressive, he’s in your face, and likes getting stuck in. He’s very physical – he can put a hit in – but he also manages the game really well.

“England will bring lots of physicality. That is a huge strength of theirs. They know their strengths and they play a winning brand of rugby – that’s something I’ve seen since [Eddie] has been involved.”

Farrell’s move to No.10 is just one change from an England Six Nations campaign that didn’t hit desired heights.

In the 22-16 defeat to France in March, Mike Brown, James Haskell and Dan Cole all featured, yet the autumn has shone new light on the emergence of back-rowers Sam Underhill and Mark Wilson, while Elliot Daly has moved to full-back.

Kyle Sinckler has taken his chance at prop and Maro Itoje’s influence grows game by game.

“I think, by this time next year at the World Cup, he (Itoje) will be the best lock in the world.” Jones explained to the BBC after the win over Japan.

Newly-installed defence coach John Mitchell has seen his impact felt, Jones’ men conceding just one try in the Tests against New Zealand and South Africa.

England now need to weave it all together to see out their Test year on Saturday, with Jones leaving the last word for his old mate Cheika.

He said: “He is a good guy, passionate about Australian rugby doing well, and I’m sure there will be better days for him – let’s just hope it is not Saturday.”