Summary: England came out of the Quilter Internationals with three wins and a loss by just a point to New Zealand.

With the Rugby World Cup™ taking place in Japan next year, there was more attention being paid to the Quilter Internationals than would normally be the case in the autumn.  

True, this part of the season is always a useful yardstick for England to measure their form and quality against the countries who between them have won every World Cup other than England's 2003 triumph, but the match-ups were more pertinent this time, as Eddie Jones looked towards the ultimate challenge ahead.

In addition, this autumn was the first time under Jones that England have faced world champions New Zealand. The All Blacks won the 2015 tournament in England as part of a record run of 19 successive wins, a statistic Jones's men were able to equal the following year. Both saw their runs end the same way, by losing to Ireland.

That loss in Dublin, after a second successive Six Nations crown was won, had seemed just a blip until this year's run of five successive international defeats, a slump that had the alarm bells ringing. Had England peaked too soon?

It was in this context that England had much to prove, starting against South Africa, the side to inflict the last two of those five defeats. The Boks are themselves improving after a spell in the doldrums, and England were highly fortunate to pinch a 12-11 victory at Twickenham.

That performance did not bode well for the New Zealand game, but the home side tore into the All Blacks, with Chris Ashton scoring a try after just two minutes. Dylan Hartley added a second as England surged into a 15-0 lead. However, the visitors demonstrated the resolve and capacity for recovery that has made them such formidable opponents, storming back to lead 16-15.

Even then, England almost won when a late try by Sam Underhill was ruled out for a borderline offside call, and they then lost the ball in their final attack when in position to go for a drop goal.

Agonising as the defeat was, it showed England can certainly challenge New Zealand, who are definitely beatable. That was demonstrated in Dublin when they lost 16-9 to Ireland, although that provided further evidence that Joe Schmidt's men could provide the strongest Northern Hemisphere threat in Japan.

Japan themselves are expected to be better as hosts than on the field, but in the first half against a much-changed England side, they showed the same potential to spring a shock result that they had demonstrated in their famous win over South Africa in 2015. As their coach at the time, Jones will have known about that and he responded to the 10-15 half-time deficit by making several changes. England duly rallied and powered on to a 35-15 win.

Perhaps the best was saved for last. Since losing to them in the World Cup, England have enjoyed unprecedented success against Australia, with the 37-18 thrashing at Twickenham being their sixth win in a row against the Wallabies. With four tries and 24 points after the break, it was a great way to finish.

Overall, it was a mixed bag, and England will have more to do to convince people they can be World Cup winners for a second time. But at the end of a turbulent year, they can at least go into the Six Nations in good heart and with a chance to work their way back up to peak form.



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