England whitewash a triumph of unity and consistency

Brett McKay Columnist

By , Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    From the outset of their tour, and even before they’d arrived, Eddie Jones made no secret that he wanted to leave Australian shores with the Cook Cup under his arm.

    The English Rose on his chest has been as prominent on this tour as has the smile on his face, and with the cup retained, it’s hard to know which is shining more.

    And why wouldn’t be happy with what his team has achieved?

    Jones arrived with the stated intention of wanting to take his side to no.1 in the world, and on current form, you’d have to think they’re the team most likely to knock the All Blacks from their long-held and comfortable perch.

    And it’s clear that everything about this England team is geared toward this goal.

    Another Rugby World Cup may come before they achieve their goal, and it will require its own focus; in the meantime, everything England has done and is doing under Eddie Jones is simply a rung on the ladder to the top.

    Winning three Tests in Australia carried a Rugby World Cup theme with it – Jones rightly said to win a World Cup you need to win three tough games on consecutive weekends – but it also saw England rein in New Zealand’s lead atop the rankings somewhat. It really it is a shame this current England side will have to wait at least 16 months to tackle the All Blacks.

    Winning the first Test was the key result. England had never won in Brisbane, and they did it. They’d never won a series on Australian soil before, and they did that too. And they’d never claimed a series clean sweep before – they’d never won a three-Test series, in fact. All boxes ticked, and with it, Australia’s first clean sweep defeat in my lifetime.

    It became clear watching Jones’ squad in action the demons of the Rugby World Cup ousting are long gone, and in their place is a determination to be the best they can be. And you can hear the determination whenever the England players speak now.

    Pre-match on Saturday night, I spoke with injured backrower James Haskell for ABC Grandstand.

    “It was difficult for us after the World Cup, because a lot of people and especially the media were talking about pride in jerseys, but from my experience, whenever you’ve been involved in an England squad, it’s the greatest thing you can do as a player, to play for your national side, and no-one’s ever taken that shirt for granted,” he explained.

    “I think with Eddie, and his coaching staff, and Dylan [Hartley] as Captain, there’s a real renewed sense of competition within this squad and a desire to win things.

    “Some of us in this squad are lucky enough to have a few caps but we haven’t really won what we wanted to win. Under Eddie we’ve started well, but it’s a long, long way to go and we’re not getting carried away. And if old blokes like me can keep plugging away, then we will do.”

    Haskell’s performance in this series has been phenomenal, for a player who we have seen a bit of throughout his career, which included a solid but unspectacular stint in Super Rugby with the Highlanders. Haskell admitted that he’s been a sponge when it comes to learning from Wasps teammate George Smith, and Jones was smart enough to bring Smith into the England camp and continue that backrow tutelage. And where even just last year, Haskell might have just played out his days winning England caps here and there, now he doesn’t want to give it up.

    “I’m devastated not to be playing,” Haskell said of missing the final game on tour. “Teimana Harrison has been outstanding for Northampton… but from a personal point of view, you always want that shirt. It could well be the last time I play for England, so I’ve got to go away and work even harder in rehab because I want to be involved in this England team for a lot longer.”

    Eighty minutes later, former skipper Chris Robshaw – who was similarly brilliant through the series – echoed the same sentiments.

    “Of course it starts at the top, and goes all the way through the coaches and the players, but more importantly, the players have bought into it,” Robshaw said.

    “That’s what you want from a team; you want guys going out there and giving it their all, working as hard as possible, getting up off the floor doing it again and again. And I think you’ve seen that in our performances this year.”

    When established players like Haskell and Robshaw – with nearly 120 Tests between them – are speaking in those terms, the degree of the turnaround is evident.

    Interestingly, the self-congratulations didn’t last long, with Jones expressing annoyance from within the team that they’d shelled five tries to a side that never looked like breaking through them only seven days earlier. This kind of grounding is what will keep the English standards high.

    But so will the competition for places, and the difficulty with which selection is gained. In naming his side the day after the Wallabies announced another wave of changes for the Third Test, Jones wryly opined, “You have to work extremely hard to earn an England cap so there was no temptation to make changes for the sake of change.”

    Jones made three changes from Brisbane to Melbourne, and only one more – Harrison in for Haskell – in Sydney. 27 players in all. Australia used 33 players, with five changes for Melbourne, and another five for Sydney.

    And where Michael Cheika trimmed a 39-plus-some initial squad down to 33-plus-some-including-guys-not-in-the-orginal-39, Jones enjoyed consistency throughout. Part of that comes with being on tour, of course, but it also speaks for the evident uncertainty around what Cheika sees as his preferred side. News that the French cavalry will be arriving in August only further underlines this.

    Jones has united England rugby when they were standing on shaky ground, and has completed a remarkable turnaround with largely the same playing group. He’s united the playing group, furthermore, and has them on a track in which they firmly believe they can beat anyone.

    Right now, having sat so close to the final act of this remarkable series performance, it’s very hard to argue.

    And so, fittingly, Jones gets the last word. Smiling throughout the post-match presser, Jones finished his official duties with a classic ‘Eddie’ quip.

    “I’ll always be grateful for what Australia has done for me in rugby, but it was certainly nice to beat them 3-0.”

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.