Eddie Jones started with a victory over Scotland at Murrayfield and reached a half-century on Sunday
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Eddie Jones has sprinkled cricketing analogies liberally over his five-and-a-half-year Twickenham tenure, so here is one to mark his 50th Test win as England head coach.
Although the milestone represents an impressive achievement, you expect that Jones will only acknowledge his half-century with a brief raise of the bat and a nod towards anyone clapping around the boundary.
Plenty of work remains in the run-chase, which is due to finish in 2023. Having come this far, and battled through a tricky period, Jones will want to be there at the end. He may just take a fresh guard from the umpire and reassess.
Marcus Smith celebrates his try in the 43-29 win over USA
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Losses to Scotland, Wales and Ireland shaped this year’s Six Nations for England and followed a bloody-minded, business-like 2020 that frustrated many supporters. With all that in mind, it is worth reminding ourselves of Jones’ sustained success since 2016.
Winning percentage as England head coach
In beating USA on Sunday, albeit with a disjointed performance, Jones has reached a half-century of victories from his 65 Tests in charge. It took Sir Clive Woodward four more matches to do the same. Woodward’s 50th Test win, in his 69th Test match as England head coach, was the first pool match of Rugby World Cup 2003 against Georgia.
Clive Woodward’s England tenure by opponent
Comparing across eras is difficult. Jones has only faced New Zealand twice. Two of Woodward’s first four games were against the All Blacks and Lancaster met them on six occasions. The Wallabies represent a lesser force these days. Woodward lost five of 10 Tests against Australia whereas Jones is on an unbroken streak of seven wins over his countrymen.
Martin Johnson’s England tenure by opponent
Jones inherited a strong squad from Stuart Lancaster with plenty of promising youngsters graduating from the age-group pathway. That said, the record of the incumbent head coach (he has a win percentage of 77) looks very strong when put alongside those of Woodward, Martin Johnson and Lancaster – the other honchos to have navigated over 30 Tests in the professional era.
Stuart Lancaster's England tenure by opponent
In terms of results, it is superior to that of Jack Rowell (72 per cent in 1994-1997) and Geoff Cooke (72.4 per cent in 1988-1994) as well.
More relevant, and more impressive, is how England’s results stack up against other nations over the Jones years. Only New Zealand have a better win percentage:
Six Nations and Rugby Championship sides since 2016
Lancaster’s overall Six Nations record of 16 wins from 20 matches is actually better than Jones’ resume, which comprises 16 wins from 25 games over five full campaigns. The former must curse the fact that he was in situ before the advent of bonus points because pesky points difference scuppered him on three occasions.
Then again, Jones would not trade his three Six Nations titles – complementing the 2020 Autumn Nations Cup and a series whitewash in Australia four years ago – for the four runners-up spots his predecessor collected.
A dive into England’s results per opponent since 2016 is informative. Against three sides, their win percentage is languishing at 50 per cent. New Zealand scraped past England at Twickenham in November 2018, around a year before the epic World Cup semi-final.
Chris Robshaw and James Haskell celebrate England's first Six Nations under Jones in 2016
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Scotland’s intrepid passing, breakdown skills, intuition and toughness have brought them two victories over Jones, in 2018 and 2021, and the madcap 38-38 draw of 2019. South Africa have bettered England three times, including the World Cup final.
Reflecting their quality as holders of the Webb Ellis Cup, as well as how they stand up to England’s brawn, the Springboks are the only nation to have a positive points difference (+2) against England in Test matches since 2016:
Eddie Jones’ England tenure by opponent
Of the 14 Test defeats suffered by Jones in his current role, the World Cup decider is clearly the most seminal. Working backwards, I would rank this year’s loss to Scotland in second place as far as significance, with the reverse in Dublin at the end of the same Six Nations campaign in third. England were comprehensively outdone at the Aviva Stadium in a game that underlined a need to refresh.
Next would be the Murrayfield failure of 2018, because it began the slide that eventually eased out a group of senior figures. None of Chris Robshaw, Danny Care, Dylan Hartley, James Haskell and Mike Brown made it to the next World Cup because Jones reacted and revamped.
Huw Jones slips through to score against England in 2018
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After that in a top six of toughest Test defeats under Jones would be Cardiff in 2019 – owing to another insipid second-half display – with the Dublin trip of 2017 next by virtue of it shattering a run of 17 consecutive victories and halting the charge for what would have been a historic second Grand Slam. It is only fair that we rank the top 10 victories now.
10. England 57-15 Ireland, August 2019
This was only a World Cup warm-up and Ireland were undercooked but England’s superiority felt striking. A backline featuring Manu Tuilagi and Joe Cokanasiga, behind a pack energised by Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, ran their opponents ragged. Only two wins under Jones, a 57-14 thrashing of Italy earlier in 2019 and the 58-15 dismissal of Fiji in 2016, have produced a greater margin.
9. Australia 28-39 England, June 2016 (first Test)
Clinical and clever, England conquered Brisbane. Jones switching Luther Burrell for George Ford on the half-hour mark precipitated three tries, with the latter’s sumptuous cross-field chip for Jack Nowell killing off Australia. Under the supervision of referee Romain Poite, Chris Robshaw and James Haskell bettered Michael Hooper and David Pocock at the breakdown.
8. South Africa 10-25 England, June 2018 (third Test)
Danny Cipriani’s grubber to Jonny May sealed a win founded on the graft of Joe Marler, Joe Launchbury, Tom Curry and Robshaw. It stopped a series clean-sweep for the Springboks, brightening a gloomy 2018, but neither Cipriani nor Robshaw played another Test.
7. England 40-16 Australia, October 2019
Michael Cheika’s side scented blood after reducing their deficit to 17-16 in the 44th minute. Then came Kyle Sinckler’s slicing finish from Owen Farrell’s fizzing pass. Anthony Watson’s interception capped a dominant World Cup quarter-final performance.
Kyle Sinckler bolts to the try-line against Australia
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6. England 23-20 France, March 2021
Whether or not England can launch from a thrilling edition of Le Crunch will not be determined until next autumn. Either way, they built on a promising attacking display against Wales with an intrepid, gutsy triumph at Twickenham.
5. Australia 7-23 England, June 2016 (second Test)
This was the career Mona Lisa of defence coach Paul Gustard, a remarkable second Test rope-a-dope that defied Australia. Haskell, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola amassed 64 tackles between them and Farrell’s break-out try claimed the Cook Cup.
4. Ireland 20-32 England, February 2019
Joe Schmidt’s charges had beaten all comers, including the All Blacks, in 2018. England had endured a nightmare year, yet oozed authority from the first lineout – a deliberate over-throw to Tuilagi. Mako Vunipola, Mark Wilson and George Kruis were effervescent. Ben Youngs starred and Henry Slade’s double marked a breakthrough afternoon for the centre. Two wins over Ireland in 2020 followed a similar template of smart kicking and thumping defence.
England celebrate Henry Slade's second try in Dublin
3. Australia 40-44 England, June 2016 (third Test)
England’s ability to rouse themselves for this Sydney dead-rubber, at the very end of an exhausting season, was admirable and they outlasted Australia in an entertaining shoot-out to complete the whitewash.
2. France 21-31 England, March 2016
England’s opponents were not as potent as Fabien’s Galthié’s current crop, but a backline containing Wesley Fofana, Gaël Fickou and Virimi Vakatawa proved predictably tricky to contain. Danny Care’s solo snipe and Kruis’ mastery of the lineout proved telling. Even when skipper Dylan Hartley was knocked out in the dying moments, the visitors made it over the line for a Grand Slam.
1. England 19-7 New Zealand, October 2019
Convincing in all facets and inspired by some iconic individual efforts, with Itoje and Underhill headlining, England blew away the back-to-back World Cup champions in Tokyo. In truth, the 12-point margin probably flattered the shell-shocked All Blacks.
Sam Underhill tackles Sevu Reece in Yokohama
Clearly, this list is subjective. However, few would dispute the choice at number one. And this is part of Jones’ problem. England could not replicate their semi-final excellence in the World Cup decider a week later and have not done so since, at least not for the entirety of an 80-minute performance.
To do so more consistently, Jones will almost certainly need to revitalise his squad in the same manner that he did three years ago. Bolstering spine of his team – from full-back to the back row via the half-backs and midfield – must be his priority. Like he often says himself, the sport is evolving on the road to 2023.
Jones oversees England's warm-up on Sunday
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Jones has used a total of 95 England players in Test matches, a figure boosted by the 12 debutants that were introduced on Sunday. Even preparing to face Canada this weekend, he will be pondering how, and indeed whether, his British and Irish Lions contingent and other rested senior players can be reintegrated.
Dylan Hartley had won 27 of 31 Test appearances under Jones (a ratio of 87 per cent) before being cast aside. Incidentally, George Ford (46 wins from 60 Tests), Ben Youngs (45 from 57) and Owen Farrell (43 from 15) have the most Test victories under Jones. Sam Underhill’s record of 19 wins from 23 Tests gives him the best success rate (83 per cent) of players likely to feature in future.
The next stage for Jones will require appetite, energy and cold conviction. As he scratches a line for middle stump while applause to acknowledge his fifty fades, England’s head coach must be steeling himself for the challenges to come.