Moments after England’s victory over South Africa, Eddie Jones had already switched attention to the All Blacks who roll into town next weekend.
In the space of 10 seconds, he was asked three quick questions: Can you beat them? Do your players believe that? Do the All Blacks have weaknesses?
Each received the same, short answer: “One hundred percent, mate.”
This is an altogether different England side to the one that was hastily trying to arrange a last-minute fixture against New Zealand this time last year. That was the England side who were number two in the world, who had just won back-to-back Six Nations titles and were being weighed up against the All Blacks. Then came England’s nightmare Six Nations campaign and the 2-1 series defeat against South Africa. Suddenly, Jones had gone from being inked into the New Year’s honours list to assessing whether there was space for him in the Tower of London, such is the folly of sport.
But he has not changed one jot. The confidence is still unwavering and with bulletproof self-belief. He pictures the All Blacks sat in their plush Teddington hotel, eating scones, drinking tea and talking about how they will knock over England on Saturday: “They’ll be confident and we can’t wait to get them,” Jones said.
As he spoke, the England players were still sporting seeping bruises and wounds from their one-point victory over South Africa. They too had already parked the victory: “Finish this game. Recovery. Then throw it out of the window. It’s done on Sunday,” were Ben Te’o’s sentiments.
Despite saying that they had parked the match, they will still pick through the bones of it Monday. Jones will highlight to his players their maul defence needs to improve, and they must take any half-chances against New Zealand. They will look to that difficult first half against South Africa where they were parked in their own 22, but only had their defence breached once. They will also look to their ill-discipline. Then they will look at the second half where they landed some punches on the Springboks and put them under pressure. What proved to be the match-winning scrum in the 72nd minute was greeted with a cheer reserved for tries.
“That scrum was probably a deciding moment, we were very intent on that,” George Kruis said. “Definite momentum swings, you can look at charts of positive on positive and negative on negative, the more positives you have, you’re going to end up getting some points.”
They will hold on to that. But then, nothing quite prepares you for the All Blacks.
“I said to the boys after this game that I can’t wait. I cannot wait,” Jones said. “They are the benchmark for world rugby; the team you want to play against. Where you are in the world, you only know when you play against the All Blacks. Any team that wins 91 percent of their games is a great team. What other teams in world sport do that?”
“New Zealand does funny things to you,” Jones added, but that’s not to say it will cause England to change their credo this week. They will be pleased with their work at the breakdown against the Springboks, highlighting their turnovers and charge defence coach John Mitchell — who managed the All Blacks from 2001 to 2003 — to find any ways of halting New Zealand quick-ball.
They’ll talk with respect of New Zealand but also emphasise their own self-belief and how they are treating it as just another match.
Of course, the All Blacks are more than just another match, highlighted by the frantic negotiations this time last year to get them a last-minute cheque for a ticket to Twickenham.
This is a different, injury-ravaged England outfit to that well-oiled machine a year back. But what underpins this jumbled together pack is an incredible will, instilled partly through their coach, but also through the leadership of Dylan Hartley and Owen Farrell.
Farrell shows opponents the customary respect, but suggest they have an aura and he will give you one of those thousand mile stares that pierce straight through you: “They got beat not so long ago, didn’t’ they?” he said Saturday.
And that black and white take on things, results alone, will be harnessed this week by England: “If you’re going to say ‘Am I daunted by them?’ then no I’m not,” Te’o said. “I’ve played them before. It’s more looking forward to playing them and I’m sure they’re looking forward to playing us.”
Jones talks constantly of self-belief, highlighting two examples from his own playing career where he faced the All Blacks with Randwick and they all believed they could win, only to lose by nine points. And how he then faced the Kiwis with New South Wales, who lacked self-belief, and got pumped by 50 points. Expect England to fall into the Randwick mindset, but fully focused on upsetting the world’s best side.
“You’ve got to believe you can beat them,” Jones said. “You’ve got to understand where they’re weak, understand where they’re strong and be disciplined in your gameplan.
“I didn’t need this [win over South Africa] to make me believe we can beat the All Blacks — I thought we could beat the All Blacks back in 2016. Nothing has changed there, mate!”