Has an international coach ever had such an immediate and positive impact on a team as Eddie Jones has had on England?
Back in October they were a laughing stock having been bundled out of the Rugby World Cup – the first hosts to ever bow out of the sport’s showpiece event at the pool stage.
In contrast, Jones orchestrated the greatest upset in the history of the sport – Japan’s stunning victory over South Africa.
Coach Stuart Lancaster paid a heavy price for his side’s embarrassing exit and Jones was named as his successor in the aftermath of the tournament amid headlines questioning the appointment of the first foreigner to the job.
Just four months later England are basking in Six Nations glory and their first Grand Slam since 2003, a feat so long ago they were still wearing old-school baggy playing shirts, and doubt over Jones’ appointment has been drowned out by high praise.
A clean sweep of their major European rivals has also seen them climb from a lowly eighth spot to fourth in the world rankings – behind the southern hemisphere giants of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa – but not for long if Jones has anything to do with it with the straight-talking coach having set his sights on usurping the All Blacks.
But how has Jones conjured such a rapid turnaround in England’s fortunes?
Jones did not opt to overhaul the squad and kept faith with the large majority of those players who had been part of England’s failed bid for World Cup glory.
All but two of the starting line-up for their Grand Slam-clinching victory over France were part of Lancaster’s squad with those additions clearly key to England’s resurgence.
Hooker Dylan Hartley, dropped from the World Cup squad for disciplinary reasons, has bounced back in emphatic fashion.
Handed the captaincy by Jones in the face of much criticism from outside the camp, the decision now looks inspired.
Hartley was seen as the perfect man to spearhead Jones’ plan to restore England’s reputation as an abrasive and fear-inducing physical force and he has repaid his coach by leading by example.
The other new face has had an even greater impact. Lock Maro Itoje has stepped up to the international stage with ease and the 21-year-old has dominated rivals and headlines alike.
Tipped as a future captain himself, Itoje’s contribution has been immense with his industry and intelligence destined to propel him to great things.
Elsewhere, Jones has simply shuffled his options to seismic effect.
George Ford was returned to the No.10 shirt where he formed a formidable 10-12 axis with Owen Farrell. Lock George Kruis earned a promotion to the starting ranks and his partnership with club-mate Itoje appears set in stone.
The back-row changes are perhaps the most intriguing with Chris Robshaw dominant at No.6 seemingly free of the burden of captaincy and the near-constant debate as to his suitability to the openside role he occupied under Lancaster.
Veteran James Haskell stepped into the No.7 shirt and also impressed but both have operated in the shadow of a fit-again Billy Vunipola who was another of the real stars of this team and the Championship as a whole.
Jones’ success with some familiar faces must serve as a real body blow to Lancaster whose team finished runner-up in the Championship on four consecutive occasions during his tenure.
He may comfort himself with the knowledge that he – and his assistants Graham Rowntree, Andy Farrell and Mike Catt – laid the foundations for their long-awaited Six Nations triumph but it took Jones to propel them to the northern hemisphere summit.
England were not necessarily poor under Lancaster as that Six Nations record shows, but they failed to deliver under pressure, most notably in the World Cup where they appeared inhibited by the fear of failure.
The presence of sports psychologist Jeremy Snape, a former England international cricketer, within the camp during the Six Nations is likely to have had a major influence on the team’s ability to control such anxiety.
But make no mistake, Jones is a master of motivation and has been instrumental in instilling confidence in the players and the team as a whole that has fuelled their impressive resurgence.
His man-management has been singled out as a key factor in the team’s success by many including Haskell, who has played under four England coaches – Brian Ashton, Martin Johnson, Lancaster and now Jones – and who has found a new lease of life in recent months.
“I feel for the first time in my career that there is someone who knows how to talk to players and get the best out of them,” he enthused on the eve of their Grand Slam decider.
If that means criticising a player then Jones has no problem and will on occasion do that publicly even if you are his captain or a 50+ Test veteran.
The squad as a whole can also be subjected to such ridicule with Jones quick to air his concerns about England’s fitness and their ability to go toe-to-toe with the world’s best for 80 minutes.
Intense training sessions have punctuated their Championship campaign designed to boost their rugby-fitness and particularly get them ready for the hard grounds of Australia this summer.
Jones has taken a hands-on role in dishing out that training ground pain and the contribution of Jones’ assistants Steve Borthwick and Paul Gustard and subsequent success in those aspects of their game cannot be over-looked.
The squad has also benefitted from some notable cameo appearances with the likes of former Wallabies international George Smith and England legend Jonny Wilkinson sharing their enviable expertise.
As comfortable as they may be with Jones’ hands-on approach, they also know not to get too comfortable. Jones has already displayed his fondness for changing the ‘batting order’ which in turn has kept his players sharp and focused.
Jones’ is equally adept at using words to deflect attention away from his side with his press conferences often as compelling as the development of a team that was never short of talent and which now appears to have the priceless addition of belief.
The result is a team that threatens to finally fulfill their true potential and such an achievement would even trump Jones’ heroics with Japan.