It will be a very different England rugby team that Michael Cheika`s men will come up against in June`s highly anticipated three Test match series.
Love him or loathe him, Eddie Jones has exceeded the lofty expectations put on him by an under pressure English rugby hierarchy. Having had two weeks to acquaint himself with the complexities of the English game, Jones has managed to galvanize his new team, winning a first Grand Slam since the days of Martin Johnson and Sir Clive Woodward. A mighty achievement in anyone`s book. And to think that we scribes were poised to write about a prolonged hangover following the World Cup debacle.
So what has changed and what magic wand has Eddie Jones been waving to achieve this unexpected turnaround? It’s not like he has thrown everyone out from the old guard. Indeed, the under-fire Chris Robshaw was a first pick as was the handing over of the captain`s armband to firebrand Dylan Hartley. Hartley, remember, had previously spent most of his last 12 months in and out of the Headmaster`s study accepting his latest punishment. Add in the controversial non-selection of an open side specialist like Gloucester`s Matt Kvesic to counter England`s failure to cope with Messrs Pocock and Hooper in the World Cup pool games, further eyebrows were raised.
This is arguably where Jones has stamped his authority and his genius. Gone are the excruciatingly polite press conferences that Stuart Lancaster used to put a big emphasis on. These have now been replaced by Jones speaking his mind and coming out with provocative statements like the illegalities of the Welsh scrum and Ireland`s continued tactics of kicking the leather off the ball.
This is Jones at his best, charming one minute and brutal the next, forcing the English players out of their comfort zone and into the firing line. They have had to step up and express themselves and not be restricted in trying different tactics as per Lancaster`s previous regime.
The most obvious observation from the wreckage of England`s World Cup tournament was how exhausted and limited the English players looked. They were rudderless in direction and in selection. Under Jones, they have shown signs of being bold and positive, even if it is still very much a work in progress.
Everyone knows how much England are hated on the rugby pitch and Jones has spelled out in no uncertain terms that the squad had to stop cowering under this label and instead go out and show people that English rugby is alive and well.
Fast forward a few months and the England collective has responded, primarily through Jones` statements of intent.
Our Eddie made it abundantly clear that he wanted Chris Robshaw to be a blindside and the best in his position in Europe. The former captain has responded admirably to the task. Fittingly Robshaw`s performance against the Welsh was one of his best in an England shirt and was only overshadowed by the thunderous gallop of newcomer, Maro Itoje.
James Haskell has been muscular and industrious beside the hugely impressive Billy Vunipola. England`s back row selection is no longer grabbing the headlines for the wrong reasons, nor has Hartley`s discipline and captaincy credentials.
Granted that this year`s six nations tournament has been poor in terms of quality. Australia will not be quaking in their boots from what they would have seen. Depressingly, all teams were too afraid to go out there and show a type of game which can consistently match their superior southern hemisphere counterparts.
France were particularly culpable and were quite frankly dreadful this year. The appointment of veteran Toulouse coach Guy Noves as the supposed saving grace of French rugby has been a farce. The muddled selection policy with constant chopping and changing in this year`s 6 Nations mirrored the same path as previous incumbents, Lievremont and Saint-Andre. Typically, they saved their best for the England game but England should have really added another 10 points to the 31-21 score line. Those romantic days of Blanco, Sella and Berbizier are long gone.
So Australia should be confident. The Brumbies and Waratahs are going relatively well in the Super 15 with Pocock and Hooper looming large in England`s thoughts.
There will be some exciting talent coming over from English shores. Maro Itoje is top of the list; his athleticism and all-round game has already drawn comparisons to a young John Eales. That is not a bad yardstick to follow. Elliott Daley has silky running skills that have repeatedly carved up defences not only in the English premiership but also notably against Toulon home and away. George Kruis is cut from the Martin Johnson production line of second rows.
There will be familiar names like Manu Tuilagi who is now over his injury nightmare and could potentially counter the muscular threats of Kudriani and Folau. Watch out also for Fijian born Nathan Hughes, a rampaging number 8 for Wasps who qualifies for England this summer.
On home turf, I would expect Australia to come out victorious but I do think England will win one of the three games. Eddie Jones will not lack for motivation as he returns to his homeland as head coach of Australia`s oldest enemy. It promises to be a very compelling series with good crowds given the expat audiences. Any complacency from the Wallabies will be punished.
I will even forego the fact that England has an Australian coach and a New Zealand captain as we finally enjoy an England rugby rebirth of sorts.
IMAGE: England rugby’s savior, Eddie Jones. (Patrik Lundin/Getty Images)