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Neil Francis: Eddie Jones will milk the acclaim but he's as bemused as the rest of us by England's journey from goofballs to World Cup finalists

England's head coach Eddie Jones
England's head coach Eddie Jones
Packing a punch: impressive Kyle Sinckler sparring with fitness coach Warrick Harrington

By Neil Francis

Billy Connolly likes to date his enduring optimism to his days in the shipyards of Glasgow where he worked as a welder from the age of 16 to 24.

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One day he went to buy a packet of cigarettes for Tam, the chain-smoking old worker who ran the company store:

"He started to cough. It was like a storm building up - a thundering storm from miles away. He ended up with these noises that sounded like a platoon of cavalry galloping through a swamp in wellingtons full of vomit. Then it came to an end; all calmed down. I said "Jesus Tam that's some cough."

He asked "Did you pass the graveyard on your way in here?" I replied "Aye." He said "Well the graveyard is full of people that would love my cough."

Given that the two northern hemisphere teams that were left in the semi-finals were our partners in the Six Nations I still could not bring myself to support either. The prevailing sentiment being that both coaches turned me off their teams.

The verbal jousting continued into the week as Jones' and Gatland's frippery spanned further whenever a microphone was shoved in their direction. Jones now even more ignoble and base because his team has made the final - Gatland déclassé and bitter because his team did not.

What do we in the graveyard think? When Jones wished Gatland luck in the third place play off this Friday I thought wow I would love Ireland to be in a third place play off.

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It would have meant that you would have contended in the semi-finals. When you have 46 points put on you in the quarters and you are tucked up in a casket six foot under, a third place play off seems like the best thing in the world.

There is that heightened sense of disappointment and deflation when you know that Wales will be in Japan until the final is over.

Wales are our barometer. Anything they can do we can do better. Right? Hopeless in the Heineken, pathetic in the Pro 14 and yet that was their third semi-final and Friday night will be their third 3rd place play off. They may not be up for it and the prospect of playing a thoroughly disillusioned All Blacks side can't be that appealing - but would they rather be back in Wales?

The stench of missed opportunity and under-achievement only really presents itself to you when your rivals are ribbing you about having to undertake a fixture that losing semi-finalists have no interest in.

To add a little bit of salt and pepper to the dish, Ireland have beaten England 10 times out of the last 16 competitive internationals. When Ireland went to Twickenham to collect their Grand Slam on Paddy's Day in 2018, 13 of the 23 that represented England that day played last Saturday in England's superb win over New Zealand.

England were so outclassed that day in Twickenham that some of the timbre used to describe Jones' reign could have been used to construct the gallows to hang him. In the press room that day the push had already started to get rid of Jones before it was too late. Joe Schmidt was even approached.

Jones' team went down to South Africa and got well beaten in a three test series. The rumours of his exit strengthened.

A 12-11 win against South Africa in a November 2018 test that they should have lost and a 16-15 loss to New Zealand in a match that they should have won kept the wolves at bay.

Even then a grievous loss to Wales after a lame and lacklustre second half and a madcap 38-38 draw with Scotland did not exactly give anyone a sense that England would be heading off to perform and at this stage be a match away from being World Champions having beaten Argentina, France (if they had played), Australia, New Zealand and now possibly South Africa.

Has England's progress come about as a result of Eddie's grand plan - minute application to detail and a scientific approach to getting his team right? Not a bit of it! Jones was just as bemused as the rest of us as his team lurched from championship winners to goofballs to contenders again.

Luck and providence - not that he deserved any of it came swimming to his aid as he toiled in a sea of mediocrity.

Many things have come right for him as a matter of course. It would have been interesting to see how well Ireland would have done that Paddy's Day weekend if England's back-row had been comprised of Sam Underhill, Tom Curry and Billy Vumipola. That back row almost alone is the reason why England are where they are.

England's better players have also out-performed. Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi have been immense but England's march has been backboned by players who you would never have suspected would come to such prominence at exactly the right time.

When England took the field at Twickenham in that Paddy's Day Grand Slam, Maro Itoje and George Kruis were the starting second rows with Joe Launchbury on the bench. Courtney Lawes was nowhere in sight.

Jones had been experimenting with Charlie Ewell, David Attwood and even Nick Isiekwe. Lawes was pretty much gone. In that X rated 57-15 match at Twickenham, Lawes managed to get back into the match day squad and performed well when he got onto the pitch and when he got to the World Cup from nowhere started to perform at a very high level and only because Itoje was so good last Saturday you might have missed Lawes performance.

I am not a fan - but he was very good while subduing Brodie Retallick something Ireland's much vaunted locks were singularly unable to do. How do you legislate for Lawes rise again from nowhere?

Jones, too, has been lucky to get Joe Marler back from retirement and keep him on a tight leash. Mako Vunipola who tore his hamstring off the bone last May and has been not his best but is still very good. England were blessed to have him back.

I was reading a piece in the UK media that said that Kyle Sinckler was the best tight head in the world and I thought that's not true - Tadgh Furlong is the best - and then I thought actually they are right.

Sinckler was sensational against New Zealand. I don't know another prop who can pass and offload like him under pressure and in contact.

Furlong is at home on the farm in Wexford currently. Sinckler plays in the World Cup final and was a key component in getting his side to the Promised Land.

Sinckler has been a ticking time bomb and despite his brilliance in recent seasons - cards, penalties and suspensions - a bit like his Harlequins teammate Marler, but the England management seem to have chilled them out and kept their suspect temperaments in check. Is that Jones or just the passing of time? Do we grudgingly have to give credit here?

Jones, whether it was his direction, or just a little bit of interplanetary alignment has got his less obvious players to perform really well.

To get your stock of front five forwards as fit and feisty as they are and playing to a definitive game plan - well they are primed to win. For all the good English rugby folk out there I hope they do it.

I will, however, be metaphorically turning in my grave when Jones starts his victory speech!

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