As Eddie Jones’ England move closer to the end of their first year together, we take a look at the games that await the men in white as they plot their journey towards Japan in 2019 and the challenges that are in front of them on the way.
Saturday 12th November: England v South Africa, Twickenham
Saturday 19th November: England v Fiji, Twickenham
Saturday 26th November: England v Argentina, Twickenham
Saturday 3rd December: England v Australia, Twickenham
As previously discussed in a recent piece, despite not facing the All Blacks this year the four tests this autumn will prove a significant challenge for England. Four tough test matches over four consecutive weekends will measure both the depth of England’s player resources, but also Eddie Jones’ man management skills. Does he stick with the same team for all four games or does he rotate his squad for the game against Fiji? The Pacific Islanders will certainly not be pushovers.
Realistic target: England must win against South Africa to put to bed a record of no victories against the Springboks since 2006 and having lost eleven of their last twelve matches home and away, with only a solitary draw in South Africa in 2012 to show for their efforts.
Moreover, England should beat Fiji and would hope to beat both Australia and Argentina at home. However, it will be tough facing these four nations in a row after a demanding year. Therefore, three wins out of four is a realistic target, but the side will need to aim for a clean sweep to continue to close the gap on New Zealand.
Saturday 4th February: England v France, Twickenham
Saturday 11th February: Wales v England, Principality Stadium
Sunday 26th February: England v Italy, Twickenham
Saturday 11th March: England v Scotland, Murrayfield
Saturday 18th March: Ireland v England, Aviva Stadium
Next year England will face a demanding Six Nations schedule with an opening fixture against France at Twickenham before heading to Cardiff a week later. The tournament concludes with a visit to Dublin and given the mixed fortunes England have experienced in recent years in both the Welsh and Irish capitals, it will be physically and mentally draining for all players involved.
Although England will enjoy three home fixtures in the 2017 edition of the tournament, it will be the two away matches that will pose the Red Rose’s biggest challenges.
Realistic target: With the Lions tour a few months later in June, all of England’s players and indeed backroom staff will want to perform to ensure their places in the touring squad. There will be an added bite to all fixtures this season as a result, but England must always challenge for the Championship and potentially the grand slam as well.
Argentina – two tests
The fixtures for England’s tour of Argentina in 2017 are yet to be confirmed, but it is likely to be a two-test tour as the Pumas gear up for another season in the Rugby Championship. With the Lions tour taking place simultaneously, it is likely England will be missing a number of key players, with possibly most, or all, of the first XV heading to New Zealand.
As a result Eddie Jones – who may also have to choose a new temporary back room staff if Paul Gustard and Steve Borthwick make Lions head coach Warren Gatland’s coaching panel for the tour – will be forced to look at England’s second stringers and a number of youngsters and bolters.
When Stuart Lancaster took Rob Baxter and Paul Gustard to Argentina in 2013 during the last Lions tour, the Red Rose ran out easy 2-0 series winners, but this time the home side will be selecting from a stronger squad with most of their best players now plying their trade in Super Rugby, guaranteeing Argentina access to their brightest stars.
Los Pumas love playing England at home and the Argentinians will provide a hostile reception for the visitors.
Three tests are to be played in 2017 with New Zealand likely to be one of those three teams, having not faced England since 2014.
After a tour which will have tested England’s depth and a Lions series where many of England’s frontline players may have played the All Blacks in a test series, this will be a real measure of the men in white’s progress and growth.
A win against New Zealand at Twickenham would justify England’s claim to be challenging for the number one spot in the world, but a loss would be a significant step back.
Home fixtures: Wales, Ireland
Away fixtures: France, Italy, Scotland
Like the 2016 tournament, England will face Wales and Ireland at home and three demanding away matches, particularly in Paris.
By this point England’s squad for the World Cup should really be starting to take shape and a number of problematic positions in the past should have been resolved, such as the back row balance and the centre partnership.
In 2018 England will travel to South Africa in the summer to play a three-test series, their first tour to the country since 2012 when the visitors lost the first two tests but drew the third.
Some players from England’s squad by now may have been part of the Saxons team that defeated South Africa ‘A’ 2-0 back in 2016 and will be familiar with the challenges of defeating the Springboks in their own back yard. Many have tried, few have succeeded.
Given the paucity of victories against South Africa in the previous decade, very much like the tour to Australia in 2016 England will be hoping to create history once more with a series win. Anything else would be a blow to their World Cup credentials with only a year to go before the showpiece event.
England will play four tests in the Autumn of 2018, with the possibility of facing all three southern hemisphere giants with less than a year before the World Cup. This is the international window that could really make or break England as contenders for the William Webb Ellis trophy in Japan the following year.
Eddie Jones and co. will hope to have inked in most of the names for the World Cup squad by this point with players having built up a bank of international caps and thus experiences. England may look to explore options in specific positions and look at squad places for the tournament in Japan.
Home fixtures: France, Italy, Scotland
Away fixtures: Wales, Ireland
Anything but a Championship win in the year of a World Cup would be disappointing, as the 2015 edition of the tournament proved to be. If England want to be seen as one of the favourites for the World Cup then they will need to emulate their 2003 counterparts and win the grand slam in 2019.
Pre-World Cup games
As has been the case before most World Cups, England will play at least three internationals before the World Cup after an extended period of preparation in the summer, thanks to the EPS agreement and the ‘progressive partnership’ between clubs and country.
These matches – likely to involve European tier one teams – will give England the chance to get their first team ready for the World Cup campaign and choose the players to take up the few remaining squad spots that are left by now.
By now England should have a young but experienced squad filled with talented players who have been through impressive victories and disappointing losses, but with many players still having the sting of 2015 lying in the back of their minds.
This will prove vital motivation to ensure the Red Rose are a success in Japan, away from the media spotlight of a home campaign.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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