England’s 37-21 win over Australia on Saturday capped a remarkable year for Eddie Jones’ troops.
2016 saw them win all 13 games they played and win a grand slam in the process. Jones’ has re-instilled the Red Rose with a self-confident swagger not really seen since 2003 when Martin Johnson’s all conquering side made the William Web Ellis Cup their own.
Their pack plays with a bruising physicality that mixes the leadership of Chris Robshaw with the sublimely gifted Maro Itoje. Behind the scrum they are equally imposing, as Anthony Watson and Jonathon Joseph provide a daring and guile underpinned by the unerring reliability and focus of Owen Farrell.
All this however, and their ranking remains just 2nd in the world. And given the All Blacks occupy the top spot, few can have any complaints.
Anything All Black rugby touched has seemingly turned to gold in recent times. They cantered to a remarkably easy Rugby Championship, a feat punctuated with remarkable scorelines like winning in South Africa 57-15. Their loss against Ireland in Chicago means they must make do with a record of 13 wins from 14 games, a record only bettered by England.
Some dissenting Irish voices may disagree but it looks clear that England and New Zealand are the two premier teams in world rugby today, and the only regret from a remarkable 2016 is that they didn’t lock horns. Even more distressing, is that a fixture between the two giants is unlikely to happen next year either.
As reported by the NZ Herald, New Zealand Rugby Chief Executive Steve Tew believes 2018 is the earliest such a fixture can be expected;
“We’ve got a huge year for our team next year with three games in Europe already locked and loaded” Tew commented on Newstalk ZB.
“We’ll take that all into account early in the new year and finalise a fourth game but it won’t be England, no.”
The three matches in question are set to be against Wales, Scotland and France.
2017 of course sees the British & Irish Lions venture to the land of the long white cloud. Such a prospect is tantalising, but does indeed mean that the window for games against European National sides is narrower.
The news may come as a disappointment to Rugby fans the world over. Having said that, England (and Ireland ) are likely to be extremely well represented in the 2017 Lions squad. The three resulting tests will be the climax of the 2017 rugby calendar, and even this far out, it’s hard to imagine them disappointing.
Colm Egan, Pundit Arena
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