Jones’ team within sight of Grand Slam dou­ble and record Test wins

New Straits Times - - Sport -

LON­DON dard last week.

“But it is very dif­fi­cult to know how close Eng­land are to the All Blacks be­cause they are not play­ing each other,” added the for­mer World Cup-win­ning hooker.

Mean­while Will Car­ling, the last Eng­land cap­tain to pre­side over back-to-back Grand Slams in 1992, said the All Blacks had the edge

“They have got more world­class play­ers and more in­tel­li­gent play­ers,” Car­ling told the BBC, hav­ing seen Eng­land widely crit­i­cised for the way they strug­gled ini­tially to deal with Italy’s ‘noruck’ ploy at Twick­en­ham this sea­son.

Jones’s team may still be some way off be­ing the best Eng­land side there’s ever been, never mind any­thing else.

In an era where be­ing crowned world cham­pi­ons rather than re­morse­less con­sis­tency has be­come the acid test, the 2003 Eng- land team coached by Clive Wood­ward and cap­tained by Martin John­son, who got their hands on the World Cup tro­phy af­ter see­ing off an Aus­tralia side un­der Jones’s guid­ance in a thrilling Syd­ney fi­nal, has be­come the Red Rose out­fit by which oth­ers are judged.

It is this fo­cus on the World Cup that means the fine South Africa side that won 17 Tests in a row from 1997 to 1998 are also of­ten over­looked when the dis­cus­sion about great teams takes place given that their run of suc­cess came be­tween the Spring­boks’ own World Cup tri­umph in 1995 and Aus­tralia be­ing crowned world cham­pi­ons four years later.

But con­sid­er­ing they were ama­teurs in an era where no one had con­tem­plated a rugby union World Cup, the cel­e­brated New Zealand team of the mid to late 1960s that won 17 Tests in a row is also worth re­call­ing.

The fact it took them the best part of four years to com­pile that win­ning se­quence is one in­di­cat i on of just how much has changed in the in­ter­ven­ing decades.

One thing the present-day Eng- fol­low­ing suc­ces­sive de­feats by Aus­tralia and Wales at Twick­en­ham.

By con­trast vic­tory in Dublin to­mor­row would see Eng­land set a new record of 19 con­sec­u­tive Tests wins by a lead­ing rugby union na­tions, beat­ing the mark of world cham­pi­ons New Zealand.

De­feat for the Ir­ish would see them drop out of the top band if Wales beat France in Paris.

France could find them­selves in the same World Cup pool as New Zealand and South Africa for ex­am­ple, if they lose by more than 15 points to Wales in Paris and drop out of the top eight. land side do have go­ing for them is rel­a­tive youth, with for­mer Eng­land flanker Peter Win­ter­bot­tom telling the Guardian: “Given this side are so young... they could be­come the best Eng­land side ever.”

Not that Aus­tralian coach Jones, who likened the praise he and his team re­ceived from New Zealand coun­ter­part Steve Hansen as akin to be­ing a “bit like Red Rid­ing Hood and the wolf when the wolf comes dressed up as the grand­mother,” has been get­ting car­ried away.

“We haven’t got any­thing to cel­e­brate yet. It is all ahead of us,” he said af­ter Eng­land thrashed Scot­land 61-21 at Twick­en­ham last week — a match where their third of seven tries, a blis­ter­ingly pre­cise move fin­ished by wing An­thony Wat­son was la­belled as “close as rugby gets to per­fec­tion” by for­mer Eng­land fly-half Stu­art Barnes in The Times.

When Wales were en­joy­ing their glory years in the 1970s, their stars of­ten joked that if ever Eng­land, with all their wealth and play­ing num­bers, got or­gan­ised they would be dan­ger­ous.

Well un­der Jones, who took charge af­ter Eng­land’s firstround exit at their home World Cup in 2015, no one now dis­putes that they are in­deed “dan­ger­ous” even if the de­bate about just how good they are will carry on for a while yet. AFP

In that case, Ar­gentina would move into the top eight and the Pu­mas would also climb the rank­ings if Scot­land lost by more than 15 points to Italy.

Cur­rent World Cup draw bands — Band One: New Zealand, Eng­land, Aus­tralia, Ire­land; Band Two: Scot­land, Wales, South Africa, France; Band Three: Ar­gentina, Ja­pan, Ge­or­gia, Italy.

Note: These are the 12 teams that qual­i­fied based on their topthree fin­ish in pool play dur­ing the 2015 World Cup. The other eight teams for the 2019 World Cup will emerge from a global qual­i­fy­ing process. AFP

Eng­land’s Maro Itoje (right) in ac­tion against Scot­land’s Finn Rus­sell on Satur­day. REUTERS PIC

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