PARIS (AP) — Having led England to its first Grand Slam title in 13 years, new coach Eddie Jones has already set his sights on knocking New Zealand off its perch atop world rugby.
Six Nations champion England completed the sweep after a patchy 31-21 win against a mediocre France in an error-strewn match on a chilly Saturday night in Paris.
A typically gritty performance has Jones convinced he has a side young enough — and with enough talent coming through — to challenge three-time World Cup winner New Zealand within three years.
He was realistic enough to believe the English weren't ready yet, not after a championship of poor standards and droll play.
"The question about whether we can beat the All Blacks or not ... maybe not now but in the next two or three years we'll have a side to beat the All Blacks," Jones said. "The average age of our side is 24. We're three or four years away from peaking. There's going to be a lot more young players coming into the side to put the players here under a lot of pressure."
Jones was the silverware-winning coach the England brass opened their wallets for to lure from South Africa's Stormers right after the World Cup, where he enhanced his reputation with Japan. The Australian took charge of England because he saw in the team a lot of potential that he's managed to unlock with the help of great input, open minds, and luck.
He had about two weeks to work with England before the Six Nations, and cut to the basics to try to guide them back to the top of the international game. He pinpointed the need to restore its traditional forward power, and defend well.
But there was almost as much work to do psychologically. The team was depressed not just about the World Cup, but about constantly missing out on trophies, after four straight years of finishing second in the Six Nations.
"The hardest thing always to change is mindset. Changing that to a growth mindset where players are happy to be challenged and try new things," Jones said. "We're still in the process of improving that. England has been a side quite stereotyped in the way they play their game."
Jones, who said he will not celebrate much with his players on Saturday night, quickly identified where England needed to improve.
He replaced much-criticized World Cup captain Chris Robshaw with Dylan Hartley — bringing Hartley back after his suspension for repeated fouls — and crucially placed Robshaw where most believed he was a natural, on the blindside flank.
Robshaw was a marvel in the tournament, and helped emerging players like 21-year-old lock Maro Itoje settle quickly into the side.
"When you coach good players — and England's had good players — they tend to react pretty swiftly," Jones said. "That's what most players have done."
Before thinking of taking down New Zealand, the three-test tour of Australia in June will give a better indication of whether Jones' new-look side has the potential to manage such a lofty task.