Brian Moore: England's disciplined squad are now real contenders to usurp All Blacks

By Brian Moore

England's series-securing win over Australia in Melbourne was certainly something; and it could turn out to be the defining moment when this squad, nearly five years in the making, changed from potential to genuine contenders for New Zealand's crown.

Their elevation to No 2 in the world rankings is notable given that memories of the last World Cup are still fresh.

This was a hard-fought, deserved victory in less than ideal playing conditions - a fine, moist sheen on the ball that made it hard to handle, and a pitch that cut up so badly it was unfit for Test rugby.

When a side such as Australia dominate the ball and territory, as they have done for two successive games, they usually win. But they did not do so because of the magnificence of England's defence and the questionable tactic of turning down several kickable penalties.

England's defence has been alternately heroic and haphazard, but in Melbourne it was all-encompassing. Several times it seemed impossible for the Wallabies not to score, only for a defender to produce an incredible tackle.

Given the number of coaches and players whose rugby alma mater is Saracens, you could have been forgiven for thinking you were watching Sarries playing in white. It was the same suffocating effort; calm under stress and with an exit strategy from their own 22. The comparison in defence constitutes high praise for England.

And while some doubt the north London outfit's attacking credentials, there are no such reservations about England even though they were starved of ball on occasions, not least by an erratic line-out.

Another factor in England's win went largely unnoticed - discipline. There are several members of Eddie Jones's squad who have reputations for being unable to step away from petty fracas, and Australia did everything they could to goad them - late and cheap shots, holding down at breakdowns, obstructions - but England ignored them all and concentrated on the ball.

That was a significant step forward for several players and must be maintained if they are to be the best.

Amid the collective glory there were a number of personal successes. Jones spent years failing to beat Clive Woodward's world-cup winning England team, but it will be highly satisfying for him to have succeeded with yet another country.

For some reason, people criticise Jones for not building long-term dynasties and for his short, Jose Mourinho-style tenures. The answer to this, as with Mourinho, is to point to the success of those tenures and the fact that only New Zealand's Steve Hansen has come close to doing this.

Chris Robshaw celebrated his 50th cap with a man-of-the-match performance and you have to acknowledge his mental stamina to work through his World Cup demons, take up the challenge of a different position, and play under a new captain without any apparent disloyalty or rancour: his support has been exemplary.

The last word should be about the man over whom millions of words have been written, the new captain, Dylan Hartley. It must have been a delicious coincidence for Hartley as he became England's most-capped hooker while leading his charges to an historic victory (and scoring a try). His past recidivism meant there was no certainty that Jones's gamble in appointing him would succeed. His litany of sanctions is all self-inflicted but he has never played the victim and has done his time.

The disappointments of missing a Lions tour and a home world cup came with media opprobrium and a monsoon of abusive messages on social media that would have buried many players emotionally. You do not have to warm to Hartley to pay proper tribute to his rehabilitation and the fact that, as with his nefariousness, this success was personal.

You can be sure that Jones's decision to appoint Hartley rested squarely on one crucial point: whatever his misdemeanours, there has never been any doubt that he is a team player; not a scintilla of evidence of disloyalty.

This victory will give the squad a well of confidence and experience upon which to draw in future. With that, and both personal and collective commitment to the team cause, anything is possible.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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