Under Eddie Jones England could once again reach the heights of 2003.

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Eddie Jones is in the process of turning the England team into world beaters. 

 

On Saturday, the England rugby team continued their perfect record under coach Eddie Jones with a 58–15 victory over Fiji at Twickenham. If we include the thrashing of Uruguay at the end of the 2015 World Cup (Stuart Lancaster’s last match in charge of the side), England’s winning streak now stands at twelve matches, and in that time they have won a Six Nations Grand Slam, defeated Australia three times, and beaten South Africa for the first time in ten years.

These exploits have led to the team already being considered one of the favourites to win the 2019 World Cup in Japan, and emulating the England team which became world champions thirteen years ago today. There are a lot of similarities between the side that became world champions thirteen years ago, and the team which Eddie Jones is in the process of sculpting at this moment.

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This team looks as though it could emulate England’s 2003 World Cup winners. 

 

Similarly to the current team which suffered heartbreak in crashing out of the 2015 world cup on home soil having failed to advance beyond the group stage, the 2003 squad suffered a similar failure. In the 1999 World Cup, the England side which contained many of the players who would go on to become world champions were demolished by South Africa in the quarter finals. This loss bred a desire and focus in the side which hadn’t been quite so evident before, and all the evidence suggests that the 2015 debacle has had a similar effect on the current side.

In addition, the current side has a similarly phenomenal depth of talent as the 2003 side had. In 2003, head coach Clive Woodward was able to leave players of the quality of Graham Rowntree, Simon Shaw, Austin Healey, and James Simpson-Daniel out of his final 30-man world cup squad without this impacting upon quality, such was the depth of talent from which he could pick. Eddie Jones has the similar luxury of a deep talent pool today. Prior to the ongoing Autumn Internationals, several key first team players had been ruled out of action. Despite missing James Haskell, Maro Itoje, Jack Clifford, Manu Tuilagi, Jack Nowell, and Anthony Watson among others, England have still managed to field a side that would be considered the envy of many other nations. Even with all the injuries players of the quality of Danny Cipriani, Dan Robson, Joe Simpson, Christian Wade, Matt Kvesic, Matt Symons, Paul Hill, and Jackson Wray don’t make the cut. For Eddie Jones, such a selection dilemma is a brilliant luxury to have.

All the signs suggest that this England side is destined for greatness, and for that a lot of credit should go to Eddie Jones who has got the team playing the an exciting and dynamic fashion that they have got close to in the recent past. However, some credit should also be reserved for his predecessors in the role, particularly Stuart Lancaster who unceremoniously left the role of head coach following the World Cup. The nucleus of the current side were capped for the first time under Lancaster, and he should be given some much deserved credit for their rise to prominence. It was Lancaster who placed faith in Owen Farrell and capped him as a twenty year old in the 2012 Six Nations Championship, Farrell now has 45 caps and has been twice nominated for the IRB World Player of the Year, meaning that he is widely considered one of the best in the world in his current position. Equally, the likes of Joe Launchbury, George Ford, George Kruis, Mako and Billy Vunipola, Chris Robshaw, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson, Jonny May, Alex Goode, and Jack Nowell, all first established themselves under Lancaster, and it was in Lancaster’s team that they properly learned the ways of international rugby. Lancaster is often denigrated for his time as England coach, but in fact he achieved a lot, it was simply a case of him lacking the experience to take England to that next level, which is what Eddie Jones has done. Equally, the likes of Ben Youngs, Danny Care, James Haskell, new captain Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes, and Dan Cole, first established themselves under Martin Johnson, and with these players now comprising the nucleus of such a good team, he should also take some credit for their rise. As I said previously it was simply that someone like Eddie Jones was required to move England into the world class bracket, and put them in with a chance of properly competing for the World Cup in 2019.

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Stuart Lancaster deserves credit for blooding most of England’s star players. 

Overall, this England team is one that could be remembered as one of the best England teams in history. With such a great talent pool to pick from, and a brilliant coaching team of Jones along with Steve Borthwick, Neal Hatley, and Paul Gustard, it is a team that is going to go far.

It is rare for an England supporter in any sport to begin watching a match expecting to win, but the quality of this England team is such, that that is exactly what every England supporter will be feeling when they tune into Saturday’s match against Argentina.

Why Alex Goode could be England’s missing link.

On Saturday, Alex Goode will line up at fullback for Saracens in their Aviva Premiership final match against Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham. Goode has been one of the standout players of Saracens stellar season which has seen them triumph in the European Champions Cup and reach the final of the Aviva Premiership, for which they are overwhelming favourites. Goode’s season was capped when he clinched the Premiership Player of the Year Award.

Despite these accolades, Goode remains second choice England fullback behind long-term incumbent Mike Brown of Harlequins. Brown’s ability is not in question. He has won 48 caps for England, scoring nine tries in the process. Throughout this period he has regularly been cited as one of England’s outstanding players, winning the player of the championship award in the 2014 RBS Six Nations. In addition, Brown plays with his heart on his sleeve and brings outstanding leadership skills to the table. In short, Brown has done little wrong during his time as England’s fullback.

However, Goode brings something different to the table. His background as a fly-half means that he can demonstrate outstanding distribution skills, allied with excellent tactical kicking; as well as being able to serve as an auxiliary goal kicker if required. In addition, Goode’s pace and his ability to create space for his wingers to score tries marks him out as an outstanding fullback. This skill has gone some way to helping Chris Ashton score ten tries in eight games upon his return from a ban. Ashton himself was inexplicably omitted from England’s squad to tour Australia, likely due to concerns held by Eddie Jones over his defensive attributes. However, the likelihood is that Goode would be able to form a partnership with England’s current wingers: Jack Nowell and Anthony Watson. Nowell and Watson share Ashton’s excellent finishing ability, and would surely benefit from the distribution skills of Alex Goode.

                                              Alex Goode (Photo: PA).

Part of the appeal of Alex Goode lies in a desire to balance the England team sheet by including at least two players with strong distribution skills. In England’s victorious campaign in the 2016 RBS Six Nations, George Ford played at fly-half whilst Owen Farrell played outside him as inside centre. However, subsequently, Owen Farrell’s performances for Saracens have marked him out as perhaps the best fly-half in Europe. On the evidence of his recent performances, Eddie Jones must start Farrell at fly-half in the First Test against Australia on 11 June. As George Ford only tends to play fly-half, Eddie Jones would have no choice but to look elsewhere for his second playmaker.

For this he has two options. Firstly, he could bring in Exeter Chiefs’ Henry Slade who missed the Six Nations with injury but has long been seen as one of the best talents in English Rugby. This would allow England to deploy pretty much the same system as they did in the Six Nations, albeit with Farrell playing fly-half instead of inside centre. However, instead Eddie Jones should select Alex Goode at fullback. In the 2015 World Cup, Australia showed that they now possess a pack of forwards who can compete with anyone at the scrum, and they are also able to field both David Pocock and Michael Hooper, two of the best back-row forwards in the world. This means that England cannot rely on winning games through penalties and that they must look to score tries. Fielding Alex Goode at fullback will significantly help to achieve this aim. This ability to link up with his wingers and create space for them to score is unparalleled in the English game. With Goode’s ability to distribute the ball, Anthony Watson could become the deadliest winger in international rugby union.

The other benefit of fielding Alex Goode at fullback is that it frees up a place in the midfield for rugby league convert Ben Te’o. Te’o has impressed at centre for Leinster in the Pro12 this season, and next season he will move to Worcester Warriors in the Aviva Premiership. Te’o’s ability to break the line as well as his strong tackling will be of huge benefit when facing an Australia side featuring the hugely physical Tevita Kuridrani. Ultimately, this change will allow the England side to become significantly more balanced.

Therefore, Eddie Jones must give Alex Goode a chance to start at fullback in the upcoming test series in Australia. Goode as all the skills to be England’s next great fullback, and to turn England into one of the most exciting attacking sides in world rugby.