England 37-18 Australia: Where do Eddie Jones' side stand 10 months from World Cup?

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England produce second-half masterclass against Australia

An autumn with three wins from four, yet a year of six wins and six defeats. The world champions kept to within a point, a controversial disallowed try that would have won it; second-tier minnows Japan ahead at half-time, and cutting swathes through a panicked defence.

A single-point win over the Springboks ground out against the odds when a late penalty which could have lost it was not given. A thrashing of the Wallabies engineered by a man, Owen Farrell, who many felt should have been sent to the sin-bin.

England coach Eddie Jones was typically ebullient in the aftermath, claiming a significant step forward for a side missing so many big names. You expect that from Jones, never less than bullish, always aware of how to frame a story. But 10 months out from the next World Cup, where does his team really stand?

Performance

England's 37-18 win over Australia on a grey Saturday made it a record-breaking sixth victory on the trot over the men in green and gold. Only Israel Folau's late try prevented it from being a record-equalling margin too.

Yet there were as many caveats as there were second-half tries, not least the opposition, as poor a Wallabies side as Twickenham has seen, a team stripped of their talismanic back-rower David Pocock and eviscerated at the breakdown as a result, a squad on its knees after an exhausting sequence of defeats.

At the last World Cup Australia delighted in dumping England out of the competition they were hosting, Bernard Foley orchestrating a dominant display of pacy, precise rugby. On Saturday they frequently looked like strangers, their defence porous, their kicking game aimless.

England have enjoyed two successive fine second halves. They scored a cumulative 49 points in the last 40 minutes against Japan and Australia and conceded only five, running away with both games as a result.

But halves is where they are right now. Against the Springboks the solitary silver lining in the first period was that they did not concede the points the balance of power suggested. They had only 22% territory and 33% possession and not once had possession of the ball in the Springbok 22.

Against New Zealand they were outstanding for 37 minutes and then scoreless for the remainder.

It suggests nothing close to a crisis but a side in transition and one too heavily reliant on the influence of its coaches, not adept yet at solving issues in front of them as they happen or finding solutions to problems other teams pose.

There is a continual issue with discipline too, even if against the Wallabies the five penalties conceded was a welcome improvement on what had come before.

Against Japan, England were penalised nine times in the first half alone. After five minutes against Australia they were 7-0 up and cantering only for Maro Itoje to needlessly infringe at a line-out and give the opposition an easy three points and a foothold in the game.

Then there is Owen Farrell, a wonderful on-pitch leader but fortunate not to ship a critical penalty in the dying moments against South Africa in a decision later ruled as incorrect by World Rugby, once again appearing to shoulder-charge an opponent at a critical juncture on Saturday.

Izack Rodda would almost certainly have scored had he not been felled a few metres out. Instead Farrell escaped once more.

Had he been punished, or had struggling referee Jaco Peyper gone to his TMO, England could have been four points behind and a man down going into the second period they went on to dominate.

"The justification that Rodda tried to take him on with his shoulder is ludicrous," said Wallabies coach Michael Cheika afterwards.

"If that [against South Africa] is a penalty, this is three penalties."

Personnel

Joe Cokanasiga graphic
Joe Cokanasiga has scored two tries in two appearances for England

No Billy Vunipola, no Mako Vunipola. No Joe Launchbury, or Chris Robshaw, or George Kruis. No Jonathan Joseph and no Anthony Watson, and only a little bit of Chris Ashton.

Even with England's resources this was an injury list that could have holed them beneath the waterline. In their place have come several players who over the past month have rapidly matured into proper Test match players: Mark Wilson, outstanding once again on Saturday, Ben Moon at loose-head, Sam Underhill, a traditional open-side after years of fudge and filling in.

Jamie George, despite England's line-out issues in the second half against the All Blacks, has moved from understudy to starter at hooker. Joe Cokanasiga is exactly the sort of muscular winger Jones has been searching for from the start, and is only two matches as well as two tries into his international development.

Elsewhere significant questions remain. Farrell epitomises everything Jones wants from his team's character and is indisputably now its on-field leader, but with him at fly-half and George Ford on the bench there is a loss of creativity even as the defence has been buttressed.

The centre pairing of Ben Te'o and Henry Slade is yet to catch fire, which is one of the reasons Manu Tuilagi was rushed in despite his injury problems. Brad Shields has not nailed down the blind-side, and Elliot Daly can still look like a man who is several games away from doing the full-back role instinctively.

Yet old reliables like Mike Brown and Danny Care have been summarily ditched. Dylan Hartley is now a finisher rather than certain starter.

Teams must mature into World Cups. England's resources are far from flawless, but they are developing at an encouraging rate.

Owen Farrell
Owen Farrell (centre) cut through to score England's fourth try

Style

Maybe style doesn't matter. Win games. Shake hands. Move on, win the next one.

Yet what is England's style? Jones sees it in stark terms: a strong scrum, a solid line-out, bellicose forwards.

That, however, feels more like a foundation than a building, a starting-point that all teams expect rather than a defining set of characteristics.

Too often England can look too one-dimensional, over-reliant on one-up ball carriers, imprecise when opportunities open up in attack. They snatch at some half-chances and yet equally play safe when the best sides in the world make happy hay.

Maybe that should be expected when there has been such a turnover in players. Equally, Jones has been in charge now for almost three years, and he is still searching for a blend that can do more than fire in bursts.

Just as the travails of Jose Mourinho at Manchester United have been thrown into starker relief by the stylistic advances of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp at his club's closest geographical and cultural rivals, Manchester City and Liverpool, so Jones' influence has to be compared to what Joe Schmidt is doing with Ireland and how Warren Gatland has quietly rebooted Wales.

England pushed New Zealand close, Ireland put them away. Wales went four from four in November for the first time, beat one bogey team and justified their position at third in the world rankings, ahead of England going into a Six Nations where England will travel to both Dublin and Cardiff.

You can see in Ireland exactly what Schmidt is trying to achieve. His side understand it and can implement for 80 minutes and into the red.

England are still chasing that ideal, not always the sum of their parts, a team who have halted a precipitous slide but not yet figured out how to get to the top of the pile.