England ended 2016 undefeated under Eddie Jones' leadership having secured a Grand Slam and a 3-0 series win in Australia.
But the caveat was that England had yet to face New Zealand and in 2017 that would have to wait another year.
But Jones – forever bullish – had repeatedly said England hadn't even hit top form yet and the first task was retaining the Six Nations with the prospect of back-to-back Grand Slams frequently talked up by pundits and analysts.
In 2016 some players had improved (Robshaw, Joseph), others had come in from the cold (Hartley, Haskell) and Jones handed out debuts to young talents (Itoje, Daly).
But the pressure was on. England had gone from (relatively) popular also-rans to firm favourites to lift silverware.
To read the first part of this series – about 2016 – click here.
The 2017 Six Nations squad
Nathan Catt, Jack Clifford, Dan Cole, Charlie Ewels, Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Teimana Harrison, Dylan Hartley, James Haskell , Nathan Hughes, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Joe Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Joe Marler, Matt Mullan, Kyle Sinckler, Tommy Taylor, Mike Williams, Tom Wood, Mike Brown, Danny Care, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell, George Ford, Jonathan Joseph, Alex Lozowski, Jonny May, Jack Nowell, Henry Slade, Ben Te'o, Anthony Watson, Marland Yarde, Ben Youngs .
Injuries to both Vunipola brothers, who were firmly first choice, saw Nathan Catt's first call up to the England squad with Nathan Hughes once again tasked with replacing Billy's outstanding ball-carrying skills.
Wood kept his place in the squad after impressing in the Autumn internationals with Robshaw missing due to injury.
The third choice fly half was Alex Lozowski with Cipriani missing out (once again).
There was also no Alex Goode.
England vs France 4/2/17 19-16
Marler, Hartley, Cole, Launchbury, Lawes, Itoje, Wood, Hughes, Youngs, Ford, Farrell, Joseph, Daly, May, Brown (subs: George, Mullan, Haskell, Care, Te'o, Nowell)
Itoje started at flanker for the first time under Eddie Jones with him moving to that position during the game in the third Test against Australia the previous June.
It was obvious England had depth at second row and the head coach was keen to get as many of his stronger players on the park as possible. Haskell, still not back to full strength, had to settle for a place on the bench.
Daly and May were chosen as wingers with Watson struggling with injury and Nowell on the bench.
And it was May who was perhaps a touch unlucky to be sent to the bin in the 12th minute.
Both sides exchanged penalties in the first half with Daly thundering over a massive kick to leave it 9-9 at half time.
In the second half a lovely dummy kick from Ford put Farrell through who found Daly on the wing. He perhaps should have scored but an excellent tackle saw his foot dragged into touch.
France scored the first try of the match to put them 16-9 in front. Jones then made a decisive substitution: on came Te'o and Nowell for Ford and Joseph. Nowell went to wing, Daly to outside centre and Te'o at inside with Farrell at fly half.
In the 70th minute Te'o – on his Six Nations debut – charged over and England edged the game.
Interesting observations: Te'o made an awesome impact off the bench and already Jones is relying on Daly's versatility (and monstrous boot) to make a lot of switches in the backline despite limited options on the bench.
England vs Wales 11/2/17 21-16
Marler, Hartley, Cole, Launchbury, Lawes, Itoje, Clifford, Hughes, Youngs, Ford, Farrell, Joseph, Daly, Nowell, Brown (subs: George, Mullan, Sinckler, Wood, Haskell, Care, Te'o, May)
Nowell returned to the starting 15 with Clifford also preferred over Wood in the only two changes from the France game – and this match was just as close.
Both teams exchanged penalties until England accrued 26 phases attacking the Welsh line. Wales lacked bodies around the fringe and Youngs, was able to dive over for the score.
A set move hinging on a wonderful dummy rum by Scott Williams put Liam Williams clean through for the score to put Wales ahead at half time.
Early in the second half Haskell came on for Clifford and captain Hartley was replaced by George.
The match could have ended so differently after Youngs' pass was intercepted by Biggar who almost raced away. Daly was able to chase back and recovered the situation. This was pretty much Youngs' last involvement in the game with Care coming to replace him.
With five minutes to go Wales' tactic of not kicking for touch proved costly. Davies found Ford with a perfect opportunity to counter attack a tired Welsh defence. Farrell pass to Daly was inch perfect and having saved the game minutes prior Daly went over to win it for England.
Interesting observations : It was Farrell, Joseph and Daly in the ruck that gave Youngs the opportunity to dive over. England scored 6 points off Welsh high tackles on Nowell. Te'o again very strong off the bench. Wales only scored 3 points in the second half.
England vs Italy 26/2/17 36-15
Marler, Hartley, Cole, Launchbury, Lawes, Itoje, Haskell, Hughes, Care, Ford, Farrell, Te'o, Daly, May, Brown (subs: George, M Vunipola, Sinckler, Wood, Clifford, Youngs, Slade, Nowell)
This was the game Italy decided not to compete at rucks causing chaos in the England ranks (we've all seen the video of Haskell questioning referee Romain Poite).
Consequently Te'o, in his first start for England, wasn't given much of a chance to run at the Italian defence.
England scored from a rolling maul but made heavy work of it in the first half with the disruption tactic, since outlawed, proving very effective.
After a penalty bounced off the posts Italy pounced and, almost unbelievably, they went into half time ahead.
At the start of the second half it was Care who gave England the boost they needed with a tap-and-go penalty scored in the corner.
And soon after Te'o found Daly on the wing to score again. Italy, though, bounced back after some poor tackling by Ford and Brown.
Nowell secured the try-scoring bonus point and then dotted down again the other side of a Te'o try (which came from a strong Sinckler line break).
Interesting observations: Another early sub for Hartley for George brought on in the 55th minute. Nowell, who ended up scoring twice, replaced May in the same substitution.
England vs Scotland 11/3/17 61-21
Marler, Hartley, Cole, Launchbury, Lawes, Itoje, Haskell, Hughes, Youngs, Ford, Farrell, Joseph, Daly, Nowell, Brown (subs: George, M Vunipola, Sinckler, Wood, B Vunipola, Care, Te'o, Watson)
Two changes from the Italy game in the starting 15 with Youngs preferred at 9 and Nowell, having scored twice the previous week, preferred over Jonny May (who was not even on the bench).
Daly – one of England's players of the tournament up to this point – would not last long after being the victim of a terrible Fraser Brown tackle which saw the hooker sent to the bin.
With Scotland down to 14 men, and Daly off for Watson, England ran rampant with some scintillating running rugby thanks, in part, to a slick line out operation.
Joseph scored twice, both tries showing his agility on the ball and England's danger with Ford and Farrel both comfortable playing first receiver.
England's third try came from that same Ford/Farrell/Joseph combination before the centre put his club-mate clean through.
In the second half it was more of the same with England's pack dominating the set piece and the breakdown. Soon after kick off Youngs found Joseph running a great attacking line and the centre scored again, his third of the match.
Both teams exchanged tries in the second half (with Care crossing twice) but the big news for England was the return of Billy Vunipola – the key man for Jones' England formula although Hughes had not played badly as a replacement.
Interesting observations: Jones brought Te'o on at outside centre for hat-trick man Joseph and George was brought on in just the 51st minute. He was yet to start for England with Hartley, the captain, still the preferred hooker.
England vs Ireland 18/3/17 9-13
Marler, Hartley, Cole, Launchbury, Lawes, Itoje, Haskell, B Vunipola, Youngs, Ford, Farrell, Joseph, Daly, Watson, Brown (subs: George, M Vunipola, Sinckler, Wood, Hughes, Care, Te'o, Nowell)
A fit-again Billy Vunipola started in place of Hughes and Jones once again shuffled his back three with Watson preferred over Nowell on this occasion.
Despite the continuity in the team England fell to their first defeat under Eddie Jones and failed to score a try at the Aviva stadium – their Grand Slam dream curtailed.
England were simply second best for much of the game, lacking any intensity and physicality with the fabled 'finishers' failing to do the business off the bench.
In their 2016 triumphs England had made do without a proper 'fetcher' – instead relying on the collective talents of the team at the break down. Perhaps it was this game that showed England were still short in that department. Stander on O'Mahony with both impressive (O'Mahony in particular was devastating at the line-out).
After game Jones blamed himself and not his players, saying he hadn't prepared them correctly. But too many unforced errors meant Ireland had a decent scalp – even if if England retained the trophy.
Interesting observations: Rory Best felt the need to speak to the ref after a few late hits on talisman Sexton (notably one by substitute Wood). England's line out was poor and B Vunipola only last 62 minutes on his first start since coming back from injury. His brother was subbed for Marler at half time.
What did Eddie learn?
Hartley was still the captain but Farrell was taking on a growing leadership role with the hooker consistently subbed off early in the second half to make way for George.
It didn't look like Haskell was the player he once was Down Under and he struggled for form throughout the tournament. This created something of a back-row headache with Itoje performing well in the loose but getting criticism from some corners for his lack of spoiling at the breakdown.
The Ford/Farrell/Joseph backline was now a firm favourite along with Brown at full back but Jones was yet to settle on a pair of wingers with Daly staking a strong claim for one side with Nowell and Watson fighting out for the other.
It looked as though May could be joining Ashton, Youngs, Parling, Burrell and Brookes on the Jones scrapheap but there was a summer tour to Argentina coming up and with most first-choice players away with the Lions… he might just get a chance to stake a claim.
England's Argentina tour 2017 squad
Cowan-Dickie, Hartley, Taylor, Will Collier, Genge, Hill, Mullan, Nick Shonert, Harry Williams, Don Armand, Ewels, Isiekwe, Launchbury, Ben Curry, Tom Curry, Haskell, Robshaw, Underhill, Mark Wilson, Wood, Hughes, Care, Jack Maunder, Ford, Piers Francis, Lozowski, Devoto, Sam James, Harry Mallinder, Joe Marchant, Slade, Joe Cokanasiga, Nathan Earle, May, Denny Solomona, Yarde, Brown
For the second Lions tour in a row the England captain did not make the squad with Warren Gatland preferring Jamie George – who would go on to start all three tests against the All Blacks.
This was Jones' chance to get a look at a lot of young talent in England, including four teenagers in the Curry twins, Isiekwe and Cokanisiga.
They four of them were among several uncapped players looking to make a name for themselves while the likes of Farrell, Itoje, Kruis and Lawes joined up with the Lions.
For the Barbarians game yet more uncapped players were invited into the squad with the only capped player scrum half Richard Wigglesworth.
England vs Barbarians 28/5/17 28-14
Genge, Jack Singleton, Collier, Ewels, Isiekwe, Robshaw, Underhill, Beaumont, Care, Ford, Lozowski, James, May, Earle, Brown (subs: George McGuigan, Ross Harrison, Jamal Ford-Robinson, Will Spencer, T Curry, Wilson, Wigglesworth, Michael Haley)
The Baa-baas eccentric love of running rugby, and the sheer number of also-rans in the England squad, means it's hard to look into this too much from a Jones-evolution perspective but there are some things of note.
Tom Curry and Mark Wilson both came off the bench to make their debuts but unfortunately Lozowski and Underhill (both of whom were starting in an England shirt for the first time) picked up shoulder injuries which ruled them out of the imminent tour to Argentina.
Ironically Tom Curry was only called into the side when twin Ben was injured during training the week of the match – Tom went on to win MOTM after coming on for Underhill just before half time.
In the absence of Hartley and Farrell Robshaw captained England for the first time since the 2015 World Cup.
Earle scored England's first try of the afternoon with Isiekwe crossing in the second half after a great steal by Curry.
Interesting observations : Lining up at full back for the Baa-baas? Alex Goode whose international career with England seemed to be over already with just 21 caps. Tom Curry coming on for Underhill… two years later the duo would pack down for England in the World Cup final.
England vs Argentina 10/6/17 38-34
Genge, Hartley, Williams, Launchbury, Ewels, Wilson, Curry, Hughes, Care, Ford, Lozowski, Slade, May, Yarde, Brown (subs: Mullan, Collier, Isiekwe, Armand, Maunder, Francis, Solomona)
Some familiar names littered in the started 15 but a fair few earned their first full caps here against the Pumas including Wilson, Curry, Genge and Williams. A centre pairing of Lozowski and Slade showed that Jones still wanted to ball players at 10/12 but his selection was perhaps hampered somewhat with Te'o being called up to the Lions.
England went down early before Yarde scored a try back.
England's second try showcased the classiness of Slade who dummied the ball out the back to Brown before sticking through a lovely grubber for May to score. Dazzling work.
Argentina soon scored, Solomona, who came on for Yarde, defending in the line was sold a dummy with Curry unable to cover. The Pumas next try also left Solomona not covering himself in glory defensively.
Ford was able to grab a try back after combining well with Slade before out-pacing the defence to give England a slender lead.
But with England trailing with just minutes to go Launchbury found Francis who got it Solomona who bounced off a tackle before racing it in from almost 50 metres out. Some first cap.
Jones said after the game: "Take Denny [Solomona], he made two horrific defensive mistakes but then scored a fantastic try."
Not exactly a glowing endorsement of the cross-code winger.
Interesting observations: George Ford won MOTM but the standout young performer was Curry who was already making a name for himself. Armand made his England debut off the bench as did Francis and Maunder.
England vs Argentina 17/6/17 35-25
Genge, Hartley, Williams, Launchbury, Ewels, Robshaw, Underhill, Hughes, Care, Ford, Francis, Slade, May, Yarde, Brown (subs: Mullan, Collier, Wilson, Lozowski, Solomona)
Despite scoring the winning try Solomona was dropped to the bench and with Curry missing out it was fellow young flanker Underhill who started alongside old-hand Robshaw in the back row.
Francis was given the nod over Lozowksi at inside centre with Slade keeping his 13 shirt.
England scored early off a smooth lineout with Hughes running off Ford to get front foot ball. Launchbury did the same then offloaded to Ewels for the lock to score his first England try.
Argentina answered back with a drifting Yarde caught a bit flat footed when the Pumas put it out wide.
England were able to score a stunning counter-attack try with Brown showing his skills after plucking a kick out of the air, running it 50 metres before off-loading to Francis to score his first Test try.
But second half an attempted grubber by Francis failed to come off and Argentina showed they were still in the game.
Then there was another error with Slade knocking on but England soon won the ball back, Brown once again running well before finding Care to touch down.
It was Collier's try in the 65th minute (he's only come on 5 minutes prior) which sealed the win for England.
Interesting observations: Not even a space in the 23 for Armand after his sub appearance a week prior. Wilson given 20 minutes after coming on for Underhill. Ford slotted a nice drop goal to give England a 10 point win.
What did Jones learn:
He knew he had a player in Tom Curry with fellow back rowers Wilson and Underhill also showing some promise. Despite being perhaps England's player of the tour 12 months prior Haskell did not make a match day 23.
Slade looked a smooth operator at 13 starting both tests. Ford was probably player of the tour, running both games with the running rugby really suiting his style of play.
Autumn internationals 2017 squad
T Curry, Ewels, Hughes, Isiekwe, Itoje, Kruis, Launchbury, Lawes, Robshaw, Simmons, Underhill, Cole, Tom Dunn, Genge, George, Hartley, Mullan, M Vunipola, Williams, Brown, Daly, May, Solomona, Watson, Care, Farrell, Ford, Francis, Joseph, Lozowski, Slade, Youngs (Marcus Smith and Zach Mercer were apprentice additions)
At this stage Eddie Jones said his World Cup squad was "80% full" but that the door was open for players to stake a name for themselves – among those given a chance was Exeter back-row Sam Simmonds.
But there were some high-profile casualties – namely Haskell. But also left on the cutting room floor were Yarde, Harrison and Wood. Regarding Yarde, Jones was quite blunt that he felt Solomona was the better finisher and he picked the Sale wing despite his being sent home from an August training camp.
The uncapped Tom Dunn was also picked as a third option at hooker.
England vs Argentina 11/11/17 21-8
M Vunipola, Hartley, Cole, Lawes, Kruis, Robshaw, Underhill, Hughes, Youngs, Ford, Slade, Joseph, Daly, Watson, Brown (subs: George, Genge, Williams, Launchbury, Care, Simmonds, Lozowski).
With Farrell not picked goal-kicking duties fell to Ford in this very rusty England performance.
Hughes gave England a good platform with an impressive finish, gripping the ball in one hand and steam-rolling Argentina defenders but Jones' men failed to kick on.
After landing on his head Mike Brown came off for Rokoduguni (who hadn't been in the squad at first) with Watson moving to full back.
Lozowski played well after coming on for Joseph with Slade moving from inside to outside centre. It was Lozowski's pass finding Rokoduguni which put the game to bed.
Interesting observations : It was this game which saw Jones' infamous 'how f***ing stupid are we?!' outburst – which appeared to be directed at Underhill for giving away a penalty. Slade started at inside centre for the first time for England. 11 of England's starting 15 would be in their World Cup squad – and 15 of the 23.
England vs Australia 8/11/17 30-6
M Vunipola, Hartley, Cole, Launchbury, Lawes, Robshaw, Underhill, Hughes, Youngs Ford, Farrell, Joseph, Daly, May, Watson (subs: George, Marler, Williams, Itoje, Simmons, Care, Slade)
The head-knock to Brown gave Watson the chance to start at full back for the first time in an England shirt.
In midfield the Ford/Farrell/Joseph axis which had such success against Australia the previous summer was back and so was England's first choice front row.
England did not start strongly and were 3-0 ahead until the 32 minute – the only thing of note being Underhill's substitution for Itoje due to an injury and Hooper having a try chalked off for offside.
Youngs' quick tap with seconds to go in the first half directly led to Kurtley Beale being told to spend 10 minutes on the sideline for a deliberate knock on and briefly Australia were down to 13 men (Hooper had earlier seen yellow for consistent infringements in defence).
Some end to end rugby (Kerevi really should have scored) saw the ball end in Youngs' hands and his kick into space, just stayed in for Daly to keep it on the toe and score a fantastic try.
Australia nearly answered back with a wonder try of their own. Ford slipped off a tackle on Koroibete who offloaded in the tackle to Foley. Koroibete touched the ball down but Moore was adjudged to have obstructed the tackler.
Then, in the final 10 minutes, Australia collapsed. Care kicked off the top for Joseph to chase, gather and slide over thr try line.
Care then grubbered it through after a scrum for May to score before May returned the favour to Care following poor Australia handling. Some win.
Interesting observations: Itoje's first impact after coming off the bench? Stealing a dangerous Wallabies line out. England benefited from a number of tight calls – this match was a lot closer than the scoreline suggests.
England vs Samoa 25/11/17 48-14
Genge, George, Cole, Launchbury, Ewels, Itoje, Robshaw, Simmons, Care, Ford, Lozowski, Slade, Daly, May, Brown (subs: Hartley, Marler, Williams, Isiekwe, Lawes, Youngs, Francis, Rokoduguni)
A first international start for England for George (remarkably, after he started all three Lions tests) with Robshaw named as captain in the absence of Farrell and Hartley.
Itoje took advantage of slack Samoan defending around the fringe to burst forward before putting in a returning Brown. England were on their to a comfortable win. Lozowski scored soon after, Daly taking advantage of poor Samoan play under the high ball.
In the second half Daly scored following some strong carrying by replacement prop Williams.
Slade took a good try (albeit against 14 men) after Care found his wonderful attacking line following a rather static attacking maul.
Daly's second try was the pick of the bunch, stepping in off his wing, taking advantage of poor Samoan tackling before sprinting for the line.
Rokoduguni scored after time had expired to put a stamp on what Jones called a 'muddling' performance.
Jones' team at the end of 2017
Just the one loss all year, and that by four points, meant it was another successful year for England but England had benefited from strong finishes in a number of games.
The Argentina tour had provided an opportunity to blood younger players with Haskell and Robshaw unlikely to be at peak performance come Japan 2019 which was still the goal.
Daly had quickly made himself almost indispensible – not just with his versatility but with his all-round game, running, kicking and passing. He hadn't had a bad Lions tour either, playing a key role in one of their best tries.
England's depth at second row had been underscored with a group of five all in contention: Lawes, Launchbury, Ewels, Kruis and Itoje – but Jones was still trialling the young Saracen at flanker.
Billy Vunipola's injury-plagued year meant Nathan Hughes was getting consistent minutes in an England shirt but there was little doubt that Billy would return to the starting 15 as soon as he was fully fit.
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