Eddie Jones: We want to find out how good England can be after unbeaten Autumn Nations Series
England head coach Jones spoke to Sky Sports News to reflect on what was learned from the November wins over Tonga, Australia and South Africa, and how the team are shaping up as they build towards the 2023 Rugby World Cup
By James Cole and Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 23/11/21 6:07am
As he looks back on England's Autumn Nations Series campaign, head coach Eddie Jones finds his team in a much different place to seven months ago when a disappointing Six Nations campaign had concluded.
A fifth-place finish left many observers and pundits wondering where the team went next - and there were even rumblings over whether Jones was the right man to continue to lead the side as the focus switched towards the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
But a rebuilding job which began in the summer internationals against the USA and Canada when many of his senior players were on duty with the British and Irish Lions has continued to yield results with to November's wins over Tonga, Australia and, last Saturday, world champions South Africa.
Reflecting on the three end-of-year Tests, Jones stated that even with what happened in this year's Six Nations it was always the plan to start reshaping the squad and is excited about what lies ahead in what has been dubbed a new era for England.
"I genuinely think teams go through three-year cycles and every three years you've got to regenerate the team," Jones told Sky Sports News.
"With our team, we've been through a six-year cycle, starting in 2016. Post the Lions, the plan was always to regenerate the team.
"The Six Nations maybe exacerbated that a little bit and made it more evident which of the senior guys were dropping off, but that was always the plan.
"It's a really good mix, but we're going to have to keep working hard because people haven't seen the best of this team yet. That's the great thing - we want to find out how good we can be."
Of the next generation, Freddie Steward has proven an assured presence at full-back which belies his relative inexperience at the age of just 20, while scrum-half Raffie Quirke has given glimpses of his talent from the replacements bench.
In the pack, the likes of Bevan Rodd - called up mid-series due to Covid-enforced absences in the front row - Jamie Blamire and Alex Dombrandt have staked a claim for further involvement too, but few newcomers have attracted perhaps as much attention as Marcus Smith.
The 22-year-old fly-half has enjoyed a meteoric rise and although he was on the bench for the Tonga clash before starting against Australia and South Africa, Jones has seen much in Smith's performances for Harlequins as they claimed the Gallagher Premiership title last season to give him a shot.
It's a really good mix, but we're going to have to keep working hard because people haven't seen the best of this team yet. That's the great thing - we want to find out how good we can be.
England head coach Eddie Jones
"The major thing for me was the consistency he showed for Quins," Jones, who at the same time is mindful of not placing too much weight on Smith's shoulders, said. "Him and [England prop] Joe Marler, I think, were absolutely instrumental in that Quins side winning the Premiership.
"He showed a level of game understanding and toughness in his play which made it evident he was ready for international rugby.
"We were lucky enough to have the summer where it was a bit of a soft introduction through Canada and the USA, where he acquitted himself well, then this autumn he's continued to progress and impress, and we don't know how good a player he can be.
"Every media outlet at the moment is talking about him as the pin-up boy of England rugby, so we've got to make sure we give him the care and support he needs. He's a good boy, he's got a good family and I'm sure he's going to keep heading in the right direction."
But one other thing these three autumn matches have shown is there is still room for the old guard in Jones plans, with Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi and Courtney Lawes - handed the captaincy in Owen Farrell's absence - among those to come to the fore alongside the new boys.
Jamie George, initially left out of Jones' autumn squad before Luke Cowan-Dickie suffering an ankle injury saw him recalled, and Farrell are both still to come back in the new year after suffering long-term injuries as well and the 61-year-old believes there is a good balance in the side at present.
Jones, who restated his intention not to continue in the job post-2023, is in no doubt the experience gained between now and when the next World Cup kicks off in France in two years will put England in a good position to again challenge for the Webb Ellis Cup after going down to the Springboks in the 2019 final.
"In terms of selection, we probably got more right than wrong," Jones said. "We've got some good, young players coming through, we've got some of the older guys who are really desirous to keep improving, so we've got a nice mix.
England player ratings vs South Africa
A look at how the England players rated after their epic 27-26 win over South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday.
"If you look at the number of caps we had at the weekend [against South Africa], we've got a team of about 500 caps and by the World Cup...we'll be around the 700 to 750 mark, which will put us in the sweet spot for experience for winning the World Cup, so I'm pleased with how that's going.
"We've just got accept that we're never going to be at full strength, and we've got to keep developing the depth so that whatever is thrown at us, we can meet the demands of the game."