England’s rugby players awoke to headlines of “The Incredibles” and “World Beaters” on Sunday after ending New Zealand’s 20-Test unbeaten run in one of the most jaw-dropping international results in years.
The 38-21 victory at Twickenham shook up the established rugby order, giving the English renewed hope of success at the 2015 World Cup that they will host.
In the short term, however, the result and dominant performance will have reignited belief among the home unions that the British & Irish Lions can end a 16-year barren streak when they tour Australia next year.
With Wales also pushing the Wallabies mightily close on Saturday, losing 14-12 after conceding a last-minute try, Australia coach Robbie Deans has seen close up what his side will be facing in June and July.
“I think we have seen from the two encounters that the Lions series is going to be huge,” Deans said.
“These (Australia) players have earned some respite, a good break, but I’m sure at the back of their minds that it’s looming.”
Saturday’s results may have altered the thinking of Warren Gatland, the New Zealand-born Wales coach who will also lead the Lions to Australia.
Many pundits had been predicting the Welsh would provide the biggest contingent of players, having won the 2012 Six Nations and also been the only British team to reach the semifinals of last year’s World Cup.
However, they have unstuck in their past 16 matches against the southern hemisphere giants – a run that includes eight straight losses to Australia – and the team’s composure in critical moments has been found wanting.
Suddenly, it is a young England side – under the calm, progressive stewardship of Stuart Lancaster – that appear to have the brightest future, with the likes of flyhalf Owen Farrell and locks Geoff Parling and Joe Launchbury coming of age against the All Blacks.
While the recent Tests have given Gatland some pointers, it will be the Six Nations tournament across February and March that will finalise his decisions.
“No-one’s pencilled in,” Gatland said.
“Of course, there’s people who you’ve been keeping an eye on, and England winning (against New Zealand) was a great result for them. We’ll have a good look at that.
“I thought Ireland’s performance against Argentina was excellent and a few players put their hands up there.”
Wales emerged reeling from a seven-match losing run and the nature of the loss to Australia – coming after lacklustre defeats to Argentina, Samoa and New Zealand – can only dent the confidence ahead of the Six Nations.
“To lose again in the last minute like that, it’s devastation,” said Wales scrumhalf Mike Phillips, after seeing Kurtley Beale score the winning try for the Wallabies with 20 seconds remaining.
“We would rather lose by 50 points, I think. But we have got to take it on the chin.”
Gatland will announce his Lions squad in the northern hemisphere spring, after the Six Nations.
The representational team last won a series in 1997, in South Africa, with losses since in Australia (2-1 in 2001), New Zealand (3-0 in 2005) and South Africa (2-1 in 2009).