A glance at the autumn schedule suggests that England may just be taking it easy after a demanding year, but the games against Australia, Samoa and first-up Argentina will be anything but.
That’s because this series will take on a huge importance for what happens at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. With fewer than two years to go until the final in Japan – where Eddie Jones expects his side to feature – the England camp have ramped up their focus on the global gathering and their aspirations of not only winning the tournament, but toppling the All Blacks along the way.
The claim that New Zealand are as vulnerable as their recent results have suggested should be taken with a pinch of salt given their lengthy injury crisis, and all of the signs in the Land of the Long White Cloud point to preparations for a World Cup defence being right on track.
Yet one thing that can be taken on board from this year is that to have a chance against the reigning world champions, a team needs to have the most stubborn of defences. The British and Irish Lions proved this in the summer as an Andy Farrell-drilled defensive plan proved the basis for the drawn test series, and his replacement in the England camp, Paul Gustard, has promised to deliver Jones the best defence in the world in two years’ time.
“We want to have the best defence, whatever percentage increase that equates to I don’t care,” defence coach Gustard said on the eve of the first autumn international against Argentina.
“I want the best defence in the world and I’ve told that to Eddie and told that to the team. Eddie wants me to deliver the best defensive team in the world.
“Any team that wins the World Cup, apart from the last one when the best attack also won, has the best defence.
“Going into the World Cup we need to be bulletproof, trust each other, have confidence in each other, be adaptable, confrontational and absorb pressure when our attack isn’t firing.”
Jones will not allow…