By George Hartrey – reporter
Six months ago, England became the first ever World Cup hosts to crash out of the competition at the first hurdle, receiving massive criticism.
Last month, they were crowned Grand Slam champions, and were making a case for themselves as the best team in the Northern Hemisphere.
A rather short turn around for a team in such disarray following their World Cup exit, but while new Head Coach Eddie Jones is attracting the plaudits for the success, the achievement goes far beyond the Australian’s influence.
However, what Jones did bring to the team was a set of fresh faces, a new style of play and renewed belief, while implementing his philosophy of “energy, enthusiasm and hard work,” which was evident throughout the tournament.
The Saracens lock partnership of George Kruis and Maro Itoje were the stand out performers from the new crop, but James Haskell’s reintroduction and Jack Nowell’s consistency on the wing also helped to maintain a heightened standard of play.
Whilst many criticized Jones’ style of play for not being attacking enough, the standard set by England’s forward pack throughout the five fixtures was impeccable, and certainly helped see off the more physical teams in Wales and France.
The appointment of former England second row Steve Borthwick as forwards coach had made a massive improvement – England won the most lineouts of any team (66), and put in the second most tackles (643) during the tournament.
The lineout was a particularly strong point for the squad, with Itoje and Kruis claiming the majority of their own, but more impressively, stealing a considerable number of opposition throws.
Aside from the new recruitment among the coaches, the players’ performances were the key to achieving England’s first Grand Slam since 2003, as echoed by Jones himself.
Firstly, new captain Dylan Hartley was a crucial component in the side, demonstrating confidence and going above and beyond to lead the team when times were getting tough.
Meanwhile Chris Robshaw, who was stripped of the captaincy upon Jones’ appointment, also deserves a mention for his input.
After shouldering much of the blame for the team’s failures last year it would’ve been easy for the flanker to cower and disappear in to the annals of English rugby.
Instead he demonstrated a high standard of professionalism and was a crucial part of the squad.
Despite the success, many in the world of rugby have been quick to point out that England still have a long way to go before being able to topple the giants of the southern hemisphere.
The side conceded the most penalties at the 6 Nations, as well as missing the most tackles of all six teams – occurrences which are much more likely to be punished when facing the more attacking sides of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
So despite the success of England against Europe’s elite, there is still work to do before world dominance ahead of the summer tour, but the scale of the achievement from Jones and his team should not be overlooked.
Six months ago, England were at their lowest moment in decades, but a new coach at the helm and a fresh set of players have worked wonders to reignite the hopes of a nation.