Are England the real deal? Are Wales serious about returning to a former playing style? Have the Irish improved or the Springboks declined? Rugby performance stats are drifting around like confetti at a wedding and there are lots of them.
Farrell scored 61 of England’s 106 points in the 3 test series, Australia scored back to back points only twice, England 12 times.
Eddie and England went to win the series 3-0! They found a way to do it. Long before they arrived in Australia there were rumours coming out of the England training sessions that the players were really enjoying the sessions and Eddie’s coaching style. We all know what happiness means, you do things better?
I attended all the England training sessions before the final test, sometimes twice a day. Attitude, focus, attention to detail stamped across each one. This was a squad primed to win. At the end of each session the players had time to talk to watchers or autograph seekers. The Randwick rugby club officials (hosts) were overflowing in their praise of England’s attitude and humility throughout the week.
You sensed a 3-0 white wash. All the conditions for success, before your very eyes.
The lasting questions don’t relate to Australia’s style of play. They will always play running, exciting, flowing rugby, it’s in their DNA.
It’s more a case of what next for England? Can they develop a more fluid style of play with Owen Farrell at 12? Or will his prodigious kicking emphasise the need to play field position and apply pressure?
The re-match on December 3rd at Twickenham may provide the answer. Australia will have played 11 Internationals before they play England again, and they will fly home the following day. England play 3 tests against South Africa, Fiji and Argentina in November, then play Australia. Australia will need no motivation to end an England unbeaten run?
Wales decided to revert back to the glory days of yesteryear when their playing culture was the envy of the rugby world. They would attack the All Blacks on this trip. Wales conceded 123 test points and 40 in the mid-week game against The Chiefs. You cannot turn playing style on and off at the tap!
Their playing style has been eroding away since Gareth took up fly fishing! This trip re-affirmed what we all knew.
A former Wallaby coach, when on tour, told me he used to like nipping over the border or going up the valley on a Sunday morning to watch the Welsh kids playing with freedom and encouragement. It warmed his heart. Those same kids are still there but probably doing a defence drill!
A change of coach and coaching staff surely on the cards?
Joe Schmidt has marshalled Ireland’s improvement in recent times. The Provinces have had success and the U 20s reached the World cup final. Ireland had the Springboks on toast but failed to go the distance in the second and 3rd tests.
The Irish have improved, they have depth, but the class of an O’Driscoll or two is missing.
So is it yesterday once more? Consistent wins over the Southern Hemisphere giants is the only measuring tool for a nation’s improvement. Isolated wins fuel the national pride and generate positive media support. England’s current playing squad suggests they could go through 2016 unbeaten and then win the 6 Nations relatively easily.
I asked an England player what was special about Eddie Jones. He said, “He makes you feel you’re the best in the world before you run out.”
So much for coaching! He connects with the players! His sessions are relevant! His support staff trusted!
When the performance cocktail is liked and enjoyed by the players and coaching staff alike, there is room for much optimism.
In a world where elite sportsmen and national teams ricochet around the globe with the boundaries of selection easily accommodated, maybe now is the time to re-focus on the role of the coach. At elite level, he’s 90% man manager. Not many would disagree with that, but it’s the ones that stay in the tracksuit, close to the players, always on the grass that get the best out of the players. The connection is often short-lived, the prep and length of the tour, but not forgotten. The enjoyment permeates back to those players who narrowly missed out on selection, as well as those aspiring younger players coming out of the U20s. It is both stimulating and motivational.
Above all the enthusiasm of the “weekend” volunteer coach is fuelled, not only by the success of the national side but also the style of performance and manner of behaviour.
A foundation stone has been laid by Eddie and the squad of 2016. Let’s hope it’s not yesterday once more and rugby throughout England blossoms for years to come!