After a humiliating group stage exit at their home World Cup in 2015 and ranked eighth in the world, English rugby lay in squalor.
Enter, stage left Eddie Jones.
To others Jones’ new job appeared filled with trepidation, but one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. English rugby had a ripe backstory and Jones, previously a vanquished adversary, believed this was the perfect opportunity to pick a rugby nation up off its knees.
In his first press conference, five years ago today, he spoke of his long-term plan founded in talent and cohesion with the goal to win the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. He was 80 minutes away from achieving that.
Jones though has undoubtedly made an impression on the English rugby conscience.
His dealings with the press are akin to a puppet master as he controls the media narrative therefore taking the pressure off his players. He drops memorable one-liners that have the effect of hand grenades, and makes zany suggestions, like playing Jack Nowell at flanker.
He is consequently at the centre of every conversation, and since it has come onto our screens, ‘The Eddie Show’ has been compulsive viewing.
After the disaster that was the 2015 World Cup, Jones has taken England on leaps and bounds.
His overall record speaks for itself. He has the highest win percentage of any England head coach (78%), a win rate only bettered by New Zealand in the same period.
Upon appointment Jones hired a completely new coaching team and appointed Dylan Hartley as captain, looking beyond his colourful reputation.
Jones’ impact was felt immediately. England won their first Grand Slam for 13 years in 2016 and had a record-equalling run of 18 consecutive Test match victories.
Jones had instantly addressed problems that had previously hindered England.
He utilised the dual attacking threat of George Ford and Owen Farrell in midfield and combatted the lack of an out and out openside by deploying two ‘six-and-a-halves’ in Chris Robshaw and James Haskell. The changes suited England’s grittier style of play.
He also gave starting berths to the likes of Maro Itoje, who shone in a team built on strong set piece and defensive resolve.
England’s defensive prowess was no more evident than in the second test of the summer 2016 whitewash series victory over Australia. Australia had 71% possession and 74% territory against England but scored a mere seven points to England’s 23.
The 2017 summer was a notable one. Due to performances for their nation, Englishmen made up the largest cohort of any nation on the Lions tour for the first time since 2005. That gave Jones the opportunity to add new characters to the storyline.
He named 17 players under the age of 25 for the tour of Argentina, seven of whom went on to be integral parts in England’s 2019 World Cup squad.
Enhancing the depth of England’s squad has always been a main pillar in Jones’ vision, and he has handed debuts to 46 players since taking charge.
2018 told a different story though and was a low point for his time in charge.
Injuries were aplenty, including captain Hartley, and there were issues at flanker, full back and in the centres.
England stumbled to their worst ever performance in the Six Nations, finishing fifth after losing consecutive matches to Scotland, France and Ireland.
Jones answered back resoundingly.
He appointed a new captain in Owen Farrell, selected flankers Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, giving England superiority at the breakdown, and had his wish of a destructive ball-carrier in midfield granted in the shape of a fully fit and firing Manu Tuilagi.
2018 saw other high-level departures. Jones was left with no attack or defence coach a year before a World Cup. He appeared to be staring down the barrel of a gun.
Rather than panicking, Jones recruited astutely. He landed Scott Wiesmantel as attack coach and poached John Mitchell from the Super Rugby side the Bulls as defence coach. By the time of the World Cup their impact was obvious.
England’s new look outfit were much improved at the 2019 Six Nations. Per game, they scored the most points (36.8), the most tries (2.6), and gained the most meters (455.8m) of any other Six Nations in Jones’ reign.
However, they were still not the finished article. They remained relatively frail defensively and were exposed by Scotland who fought back from 31-0 down to draw 38-38 at Twickenham. Could a side who threw away leads like this really challenge at a World Cup?
Indeed they could.
The ensuing six months between the Six Nations and World Cup saw England evolve further and consolidate their progress.
They arrived at the World Cup characterised by aggressive defence, and Jones’ horses for courses selection policy. It worked perfectly as England rampaged past Australia and New Zealand en route to the final. The latter being the best 80 minutes produced by an England side in the last decade.
However, the final marked a damp point in the Jones era. His selections, quite rightly, came under the spotlight as England were pummelled at the scrum and lacked solidity in midfield.
That England side represented the impact Jones has had on English rugby. It demonstrated the propensity for England under Jones to smash through glass ceilings and was the youngest side to ever start in a final. One-third were given their debuts by Jones.
Jones’ performance earned him a contract extension and he will take England to the next World Cup in France.
His publicly stated aim this time: “To be the team that is remembered as being the greatest team the game has ever seen.”
Not one to mince your words are you Eddie?
With England ranking second in the world and having just won the longest, and most bizarre Six Nations in living memory, Jones has started off on the right foot.
He now has a squad brimming with youth, experience and depth across the board.
His coaching staff has also been revamped, including new scrummaging coach, Matt Proudfoot, the mastermind behind South Africa’s dominant scrummaging machine at the 2019 World Cup.
‘The Eddie Show’ is continuing, and England should look to the future with ambition and excitement.