PA Sport

Eddie Jones impact there to see as England set up Six Nations Grand Slam shot

Jones impact there to see as England set up Grand Slam shot
By PA Sport

16/03/2016 at 16:04Updated 16/03/2016 at 16:33

Eddie Jones skilfully deflects attention away from his role in guiding England to the brink of a first Grand Slam since 2003, but the Australian's impact on a squad that was falling short of their potential is hard to overstate.

Failing to progress from the group stage of the World Cup marked the nadir of the previous regime, a late collapse against Wales and record defeat to Australia ensuring the hosts' worst nightmare came to pass.

Four successive runners-up finishes in the RBS 6 Nations gave Stuart Lancaster, Jones' predecessor, no ammunition with which to argue his case to his Twickenham paymasters and his departure inevitably followed.

Into the void stepped Jones, the 56-year-old whose career had been revitalised by Japan's outstanding performance at the World Cup topped by a famous victory over South Africa in the biggest upset the sport has witnessed.

He inherited a squad lacking in confidence, one that had been heavily criticised in the wake of their England 2015 ordeal. A succession of leaked stories even compelled full-back Mike Brown to declare his trust in his team-mates had been destroyed.

Fast forward five months and a group full of familiar faces - the team that toppled Wales on Saturday contained 13 survivors from the 23 who fell to the same opponents in September - stand on the brink of only the nation's 13th Grand Slam.

Ask Jones for an insight into how he has instigated the turnaround and he will place the focus firmly back on to the players.

"It's not me who is changing the team, it's the players who are changing it. They are changing themselves," Jones said.

"All I'm doing is building a house for them to operate in and they're doing that well."

Undoubtedly the players have been granted greater freedom and autonomy, both socially off the pitch and tactically on it, in a welcome change after the school-mastery approach of Lancaster.

But Jones' imprint is stamped heavily on this England team and after fleeting moments against Scotland and Italy when it was evident a new coach was in place, the visit of Ireland offered more visible pointers to his methods.

Quicker ball was delivered to players standing flatter, resulting in ground being made more rapidly.

Under Lancaster, complex and pre-programmed backs moves proved a hindrance rather than catalyst for the attack. If there had been no breakthrough after two or three phases, play broke down through a lack of ideas.

One Australia player remarked in private after the Wallabies had rampaged across Twickenham at the World Cup "how do they remember all this stuff? Why don't they just play rugby?"

Jones has simplified the approach and with everything happening faster, there is more pace on the ball when it is threaded wide, but this is no Barbarians-style makeover as England remain as happy to kick as ever.

Against Wales, they produced 50 minutes of high-class rugby founded on the might of their pack and it was hard to pick fault until disaster was narrowly averted amid a late implosion that evoked memories of the World Cup.

England had lost their snarl under Lancaster and Jones has enjoyed early success in restoring an abrasive edge to the forwards.

Billy Vunipola has been outstanding at number eight, empowered by the support of his coach, George Kruis has emerged as the nation's standout lock and in Maro Itoje they have a rising star of dizzying potential.

It has been death by a thousand cuts for Lancaster, who has seen many of his initiatives abandoned and damned by feint praise from his successor.

It is hard to disagree with the argument that the fixture list and standard of opposition in a poor Championship has been kind to Jones, but to win Six Nations title - and if the form book is correct a Grand Slam - in his first campaign at the helm is a remarkable achievement that hints at a successful four years ahead.