Six Nations success was first step for ambitious England ahead of Australia Tour
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | April 4, 2016
“World domination; the same old dream.” That most masculine of sporting pursuits – playing international rugby union – demands an apt quotation from that quintessential icon of manhood, James Bond.
Ambition is defined as a strong desire to do something or achieve success. Under their first-ever foreign head coach in Eddie Jones, England expected and have already delivered a trophy.
En route to the 2016 Six Nations Grand Slam, the style came in fits and starts, but substance proved a consistent vein throughout.
A fair assessment of the Red Rose is that it continues to bloom – its youthful petals will flower and grow strong when we witness this young side put two halves of convincing rugby together against elite opposition.
Already made firm favourites by Coral at 11/8 to retain their title as best of the Six Nations next year, England face a sterner series of Tests in the short-term.
Springboard to success in Southern Hemisphere?
Tasmania native Jones will take his team Down Under this June for a hat-trick of encounters with Australia, who are only below New Zealand in the world rugby rankings, after preparing for that Tour against Six Nations runners-up Wales.
Red Rose winger Jack Nowell is looking past another Dragons duel – despite the impending return of Leigh Halfpenny – to facing the Wallabies. “We want to be the most dominant team in the world,” said Nowell, who plays his club rugby for Exeter Chiefs.
Although his wishes and those of everyone connected with England are ambitious, the enormity of the task is not lost on nifty wideman Nowell.
“The first stage for us was Europe and now it’s going to be a massive test going down to Australia in the summer,” he continued. “It’s going to be another challenge for us, but one that we can look forward to after a good start.”
Where Southern Hemisphere sides have long held a considerable edge over their European counterparts is in natural athleticism, producing physical specimens that simply won’t be stopped.
Red Rose may match Aussie forwards
Emerging lock Maro Itoje’s impressive displays at the advent of his senior international career portend a big future.
Sydney-born back row Billy Vunipola, meanwhile, made the number eight jersey his own having played every minute of the Grand Slam campaign, so there are signs Jones’ forwards can hold their own Down Under.
Wallabies boss Michael Cheika will want to run the rule over new faces, just as his Red Rose counterpart did during the Six Nations.
It will be interesting to see whether the Aussies make more changes to the XV that eliminated England as Rugby World Cup hosts last autumn, or if Jones’ touring party is dramatically different from that Red Rose roster which flopped under predecessor Stuart Lancaster.
If fit, then seven or eight of England’s starting line-up from when they last faced Australia should figure. Dan Cole and Joe Marler remain first-choice props, while former captain Chris Robshaw has kept his place by switching from openside to blindside flanker.
Four or five further constants between the Lancaster and Jones eras can be found among the backs. Kicker Owen Farrell has moved from fly half into midfield where he partners Jonathan Joseph at centre, and Ben Youngs competes with Danny Care for scrum half duties.
Anthony Watson remains down the opposite wing to Nowell, and Mike Brown is the established full back. Some of Australia’s changes could well come in these areas.
Wallabies to assess backs options
Centre Matt Giteau would be 38 during the next Rugby World Cup, and there are legs to play at 12 and 13 for the Wallabies about to enter their prime as the cycle that culminates in Japan 2019 begins.
While the Aussies have Kurtley Beale, Tevita Kuridrani and Matt Toomua to choose from in midfield, replacing winger duo Adam Ashley-Cooper and Drew Mitchell is more of a challenge because their understudies have never been anything like as prolific tryscorers.
Cheika’s conundrum out wide is offset by the excellent breakdown work of seemingly telepathic back row duo Michael Hooper and David Pocock. Who knew the dirty work of international rugby could look so stylish? It certainly helped the Wallabies to the 2015 Rugby World Cup final.
Daunting individual battles await Vunipola and Robshaw, then; while other flanker James Haskell will have to keep better discipline here or face being replaced by young Jack Clifford.
Delivering Down Under doesn’t equate to domination
Whatever the outcome of England’s Tour matches in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney this summer, it cannot amount to world domination.
Another step in the right direction if Australia are humbled on their own turf certainly, but the All Blacks, who simultaneously welcome Wales, rule the globe when it comes to rugby union.
A renewal of the Red Rose v New Zealand is some way off, even as constituent parts of the British and Irish Lions that go on Tour in the summer of 2017 as 3/1 outsiders. Nobody else can be regarded as number one until they individually beat Rugby World Cup holders the All Blacks.
Should the summer prove fruitful for England, and they can also knock off South Africa and Australia again who top and tail their Autumn Internationals assignments, then Jones’ debut year in charge will look very rosy indeed with a top three ranking guaranteed.
Relive England’s Grand Slam winning Six Nations campaign by visiting Coral’s rugby union archive.