After finishing a home Rugby World Cup with the official title of the 'worst performing host nation in the history of the tournament' there wasn't the buoyancy and feel good factor surrounding our elite side and English rugby that was hoped for from a home Rugby World Cup. Instead the mood was decidedly downcast, the players involved were emotionally drained and hurting and the management lost their jobs. Just 87 days before the RBS 6 Nations England were without a head coach, options looked to be limited as to those that were available to take the role, and sighs of concern could be heard around the country.
Now, just a few months on England have a Grand Slam in the bag and their eyes are firmly fixed on a tour to Australia. Domestically there are 3 sides in the final 4 of Europe's top flight competition and the Aviva Premiership competition is blooming. So the question is how, in just a few short months, can everything have turned so drastically on its head and English rugby be flourishing on every level?
Well, it all stems from the appointment of Eddie Jones on 20th November 2015. In his opening press conference it was clear that Eddie was not a man to be messed with, he was going to take the England job and do it his way. Importantly from the point of view of the players 'all bets were off' and every single available individual would be considered regardless of previous history.
Instantly there was a shift in the mood and mindset of those taking part in our Aviva Premiership competition. Those that were part of the World Cup didn't have time to feel sorry for themselves as they had shirts to win back and those that missed out had points to prove. As a direct result of Eddie's introduction the Aviva Premiership competition cranked up a level throughout late November and December. 'The players pick themselves' was, and is, Eddie's mantra and we saw the likes of Chris Robshaw, Henry Slade, Jamie George, Danny Care, Chris Ashton and others raise their game. Not all made it into Eddie's 6 Nations squad, be that due to injury or other factors, however all epitomised the hunger and desire felt by those eligible to be part of Eddie's England.
Then came the RBS 6 Nations tournament itself and it too had profound, and positive impact, on English rugby. The Scotland match wasn't ever going to be a great spectacle, how could it after just 7 training sessions together? But, as the weeks and matches went by we watched the influence that England's new management had on an immensely talented group of players that were desperate to prove themselves. Paul Gustard implemented his flawless defensive principles instantly and he has a personality that players cannot help but respond to and feed off. Steve Borthwick's meticulous attention to detail had England's lineout excelling and as for Eddie Jones, well he managed the media, and his players, using every ounce of his vast experience. The media spotlight was always on Eddie, not for personal gain and glory, but to take the pressure off a squad that just needed to focus on the field and deliver. Eddie got England's attack singing and with his management style he changed the squad's mindset and belief. There is a feeling now that England's elite players have an inkling of just how good they can be and are excited and hugely motivated by that. England's players are training and performing in the national jersey with a smile and believe Eddie Jones when he says that they can be the most dominant team in the world. In short we have a national side that are hell bent on achieving Jones' lofty goal.
The virtuous cycle of winning a Grand Slam now continues. England's squad have returned back to their clubs in better shape than when they left and they have the carrot of a tour to Australia hanging in front of them. Once again no player's position is safe, all have to prove themselves again to ensure a seat on that plane and they will only get one if they 'continue to play like International players' at domestic level. As it should be England's Internationals are raising the standard of the domestic game and now with domestic and European trophies in their grasp we're set to see performance levels increase across the board.
English rugby was in a difficult spot after the Rugby World Cup, but one right appointment has turned everything around. Of course professional sport is a fickle business that's all about winning, if England lose all 3 tests in Australia then the picture won't be as rosy or positive, however I can't see that happening. England's young squad are now charging confidently forwards and they have the belief, and ability, to continue on an upwards trajectory for seasons and years to come.