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England find themselves one match away from the Rugby World Cup and nearly four years into the Eddie Jones project, yet it is important to go back to 2017 to look at the moment when this current side found it had to change its ways.
It all started with an announcement. Jamie Heaslip had been ruled out of the Six Nations finale between Ireland and England at the Aviva Stadium with a back injury that would end his career, so the stadium announced that in his place would start Peter O’Mahony. The Munster captain tore England’s lineout to shreds, making mincemeat of Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury, Maro Itoje et al, and gave Ireland the platform they needed to their talented backline to hammer down the defensive door.
It handed Jones his first defeat as England coach, ended their world-record bid for 19 wins in a row and prevented a second consecutive Six Nations Grand Slam.
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But it taught Jones a valuable lesson. The root to the kind of backline destruction that Manu Tuilagi and Joe Cokanasiga inflicted in Saturday’s record 57-15 win at Twickenham lies deep in the engine room. It is why George Kruis is so important to England these days and it is why Jones is so concerned about having lineout-jumping flankers, particularly with the 20-stone Billy Vunipola ensuring he will not be leaving the turf anytime soon.
England are particularly blessed to have a wealth of options at lock, so much so that it is impossible to fit them all into a matchday squad when in form. Add into that the back-row talents of Tom Curry and Sam Underhill – both able jumpers at the set-piece – and the accurate dart-thrower that is Jamie George, and Jones has the rock-solid lineout that he so desired.
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