England entered the Guinness Six Nations as heavy favourites to claim their third title of the Eddie Jones era but, after two difficult away fixtures, they sit fourth in the table.
Here the PA news agency examines the questions posed by their campaign so far.
How have they performed?
Mixed bag. Falling 24-0 behind to France in Paris was a disastrous start and, although they fought back, a 24-17 defeat invited renewed pressure on to the Jones regime. Breathing space has been bought by an ugly victory over Scotland at Murrayfield in which England adapted better to atrocious conditions.
So they are back on track?
Win at all costs was the mantra for Edinburgh and that was achieved despite the churning winds and heavy rain of Storm Ciara turning the Calcutta Cup clash into a lottery. The set-piece was strong and in stark contrast to 2018, the breakdown belonged to England with Tom Curry, Sam Underhill and Lewis Ludlam immense. Add in the hostility that greeted them in the Scottish capital – an empty plastic beer bottle being thrown at Jones’ right hand man Neil Craig, the booing of Owen Farrell during kicks at goal and the away dressing room only having one hot shower – and there is a justifiable sense of satisfaction in the camp even if so far they have not played like tournament favourites.
For a team that reached the World Cup final only three months ago, waves of negativity descend with every setback. Some of it is understandable, such as in response to the brainless kicking in the third quarter at Murrayfield or the passive nature of the performance in Paris, but there is also an eagerness to attack Jones’ England. Two rounds in Jones has been at his belligerent best, telling France they would face “brutal physicality” and branding Scotland “niggly” in language that has been condemned. And with the likes of flanker Ludlam and prop Ellis Genge wading in verbally across multiple fronts, noisy headlines have been plentiful.
Have they moved forward since Japan?
Treading water would be a more accurate description. New assistant coaches Matt Proudfoot and Simon Amor are still bedding in and several playing experiments are underway – Tom Curry at number eight and George Furbank at full-back for example. Untested front row options are hovering around the starting XV, but this is no post-World Cup rebuild, more small-scale evolution. Fiery prop Ellis Genge has emerged as the star, his aggression and determination offering explosive reinforcement from the bench.
What is next?
Ireland visit Twickenham on Sunday week and, while the narrative for the game will be Farrell v Farrell – Andy as head coach of Ireland against his son Owen, captain of England – the importance of the round three fixture transcends a rugby family dynasty as the Six Nations reaches a critical juncture. Lose at Twickenham and England’s title pursuit is over and Jones will once more face questions over his methods. Win and they enter the climatic phase of the tournament knowing that victories over Wales and Italy could secure the title.