It is a mark of just how far England have come under Eddie Jones that when the topic of facing off against New Zealand was put to him yesterday, the Australian retorted with a wry smile and bags of confidence.
“If the All Blacks want to turn up to the Aviva Stadium on Saturday and want to play us after Ireland, then we’ll consider it,” he said.
When further pressed if England could defeat the No.1 team in the world, Jones replied: “After we’d beaten Ireland? Who knows mate? It would be interesting, wouldn’t it?”
Such bravado — even if it is doused with an ounce of wit — would have been almost unthinkable when Jones took over in November 2015. Back then, he was walking into a dressing room which had just been dumped out of their home World Cup after 16 days.
Now, though, the squad that stands before Jones is of an entirely different make-up. Gone are the errors and indecision from 18 months ago and, instead, a team of leaders is beginning to grow under the Australian’s tutelage.
“We’re a better team. We’re more adaptive, more resilient and more self-reliant. They’re three key characteristics going forward as a team,” said Jones. “We don’t have the density that we need to win a World Cup in terms of leaders. Having said that, we’ve progressed a long way in the 14 months we’ve been together. We’ve gone from a team that had one or two self-reliant players to maybe three or four, going up to five or six, so we’re getting there.”
Jones’s confidence and determination to make England the No 1 team in the world has rubbed off on his players.
With a second successive Grand Slam on the cards and the opportunity to set a world record by winning 19 games on the spin, expectation and pressure could weigh heavy.
However, challenged by Jones to achieve greatness, England’s mindset is to embrace the challenge in Dublin with confidence rather than trepidation.
“I feel fantastic. I think as a team it is definitely the best team I have ever been a part of,” said Danny Care.
“You look around the changing room and there are a lot of world-class players in a lot of positions. Everything seems to be clicking and going in the right direction.
“The boys just set the standards on and off the field. I’ve never seen such hard work from the lads, from the coaches and the backroom staff, everyone who’s on this journey to try and be the No 1 team in the world.”
Alongside England’s rediscovered confidence, a sense of calm has swiftly followed too. There have been moments when their incredible winning streak looked in jeopardy, such as when they were down to 14 men after a matter of minutes against Argentina.
However, unlike in the dying moments of their last defeat against Wales before this amazing run, when a fatal tactical error led to them kicking for the corner when three points would have sufficed, there is no panic.
“We talk about any different scenario and how we will react, and how we will want to react and that makes a big difference going into the game. It means that when things happen, there’s no panic,” said Courtney Lawes.
“We have talked about what we are going to do, we know the detail on it, and we can execute.”
However, if anyone thinks England’s new-found belief and confidence is a swell in pride before a painful downfall, they should think again.
Jones may be confident, and his players equally so, but with the Aussie’s wealth of experience there is no chance of complacency creeping in.
“We talk about it all the time,” said Jones. “We’re consistently looking out for small things that lead to complacency, but it’s always around the corner, it’s always lurking in the shadows.
“It’s going to take a lot of work to get a team good enough to win a World Cup, because we’re not good enough at the moment.
“To go from where we are to greatness takes another step of endeavour. It takes greater focus, it takes greater persistence, it takes greater emotional output.
“It is like climbing up a mountain; every time you go to another level of the mountain it becomes more unstable. The ground becomes more unstable, your ears hurt, your nose hurts.
“It is exactly the same when you are climbing the ladder of success, everything becomes a bit harder and sometimes you have got to just stop and say: ‘Right, this is what is ahead of us.’”
If the first stint of Jones’s tenure is anything to by, England should be very excited by what lies ahead.
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