Paris – Eddie Jones took over England at one of the team’s lowest ebbs, the Red Rose outfit having failed miserably at the World Cup on home soil.
The experienced Australian reshuffled the backroom staff and in the space of little more than 100 days transformed England into Six Nations Grand Slam winners on the back of five straight wins — a first in 13 years.
The 56-year-old Tasmania-born Jones guided Australia to the 2003 World Cup final in Sydney, won that day by England after Jonny Wilkinson’s last-gasp drop-goal.
He went went on to become an advisor to the South African side that won the 2007 World Cup.
Most recently he led Japan at last year’s World Cup, the Brave Blossoms notching up three pool victories, including a stunning win over the Springboks — the biggest shock in World Cup history.
With his no-nonsense approach and infectious enthusiasm, Jones knows how to get the best out of players. His competitive edge and sheer confidence electrified the air in his post-match debrief after the 31-21 Slam-clinching victory over France on Saturday.
While quick to praise predecessor Stuart Lancaster for doing a “great job” developing the English team, which was the youngest at the World Cup with an average age of 26.2 years, Jones is quick to admit that he had changed the squad’s mindset.
“The hardest thing to change is always the mindset,” said Jones, a tenacious hooker in his playing days who never quite made the Wallaby side.
“Players, if they’re in a very comfortable environment, will tend to have a fixed mindset so they tend to just work to the things they know.
“Changing that to a growth mindset where they’re happy to be challenged and try new things is always the most difficult thing when you take over a team.”
Jones added: “England’s been a side that’s been quite stereotyped in terms of how they play the game.
“You just watch the English Premiership rugby and everyone tends to play the same way… and we’ve tried to change that. At times we’ve got good results and at times we haven’t but we’re still in the process of changing that.
“It helps when players know that they are being pushed for their positions
“The great thing is that the best is still ahead of us. We are only going to get better.”
In his bid to revive England, Jones upset the apple cart by naming hooker Dylan Hartley as captain despite a notoriously bad disciplinary record (that saw him excluded from the World Cup).
It has proved to be an inspirational choice, with Hartley in fine leadership form. Ex-skipper Chris Robshaw was “demoted” and then shifted from the openside to blindside flanks. He is now playing the best rugby of his career.
Jones, who suffered a stroke in 2013 halfway through his Japan stay, is known to rail against players who buck against his management style and during the World Cup claimed England had lost the “bulldog spirit” that marked their 2003 win.
In installing Hartley as captain and promoting Billy Vunipola to starting No 8, it is obvious Jones sees that axis as crucial to restoring that spirit.
Jones has also been blessed with the arrival on the international scene of locks Maro Itoje and George Kruis, both of whom just missed the cut for the World Cup squad.
Their rise to prominence has tallied exactly with Jones’ wishes: a locking duo effective in attacking line-outs and stand-outs in the loose aside from their inevitable scrumming demands.
With goal-kicking Owen Farrell slotted in at inside centre, George Ford can forget his club Bath’s poor form and rely on a trusted second receiver. Ben Youngs and Danny Care, both instrumental in the victory over France, can spark from scrumhalf.
Defence coach Paul Gustard admitted that Jones was brutal in his assessment of where England stood when he took over.
“We’re trying to change what happened before because it didn’t work,” he said, adding that the change could not be boiled down to one area.
“The amalgamation of lots of one or two percents can add up to a significant difference. It has been a tough schedule in the past couple of months but we believe this is the right way to try and breed a successful Test team.”
Jones has seemingly caught the full attention of his young squad.
“We are ecstatic to be the dominant team in Europe, but the great thing is we have a long way to go,” he said.
“What is exciting is that we have an average age of 24 and the trophy average is normally 28 so we have a lot of growing to do.
“The Grand Slam is a small step and we have a tour to Australia to come in the summer and we look forward to that.”