By STEVE DOUGLAS, AP Sports Writer
LONDON (AP) — When England picked up a consolation 60-3 victory over Uruguay to wrap up its miserable Rugby World Cup campaign in 2015, few could have imagined that would herald the start of one of the greatest winning streaks in the sport’s history.
The English had just been embarrassed at their home tournament — they were the first host team to fail to advance from the pool stage — and were about to see their coach depart and their captain stand down.
The inquests and reviews were up and running. The team’s future was far from bleak, given the money and deep pool of players available to the Rugby Football Union, but it was shrouded in doubt.
Under pressure to deliver, English rugby bosses pulled off what would prove to be a masterstroke: Luring Australian coach Eddie Jones from South African side the Stormers.
He changed the mindset of his players, making them believe in themselves and giving them ambition, and made a controversial call in appointing hooker Dylan Hartley as the new captain despite his disciplinary problems. Jones was also fortunate in that then-uncapped lock Maro Itoje was about to blossom into one of the world’s most exciting players.
The result has been beyond surely even Jones’ wildest dreams. A run of 18 straight wins — tying New Zealand’s tier one record — was completed on Saturday when England crushed Scotland 61-21 at Twickenham.
When the streak started, Donald Trump supposedly had no chance of becoming U.S. President, Britain was still eight months from voting to leave the European Union, and Leicester — the future English soccer champion — had barely been heard of outside England.
It’s been quite the 17 months under Jones following that win over Uruguay in Manchester:
2016 SIX NATIONS
The Jones era started with a non-descript 15-9 win over Scotland at Murrayfield, where there were early signs of the mongrel that the Australian wanted to see in the English pack.
England beat Italy 40-9 in Rome before Jones’ first game at Twickenham, a 21-10 win over Ireland when his team produced a strong finish that would go on to be its trademark.
England returned to Twickenham and held off a Wales fightback to win 25-21, a result that ended up clinching the title. A first Grand Slam since 2003 was completed with a 31-21 victory over France in Paris.
Jones was already being hailed as the savior of English rugby.
WHITEWASH DOWN UNDER
This is Jones’ greatest achievement so far with the Red Rose.
England scored a total of 106 points in three straight wins over the Australians — 39-28, 23-7, and 44-40. It was the first 3-0 series win in the southern hemisphere by England, and a first by any touring side in Australia since South Africa in 1971.
By now, Jones had added a thrilling attacking edge to England, and the winning streak was up to 10, also taking in a 27-13 victory over Wales in a tour warm-up in May.
England now had to deal with a heightened sense of expectation as the southern hemisphere superpowers — minus world champion New Zealand — came to Twickenham.
A beleaguered South Africa was dealt with 37-21 for the first time in 10 years, Fiji was swept aside 58-15, England overcame the fifth-minute sending-off of Elliot Daly to beat Argentina 27-14, and the autumn sweep — and a national-record equaling 14th straight win — was sealed with 37-21 triumph over Australia as England recovered from a dreadful start.
It also meant England finished 2016 with a perfect 13 wins.
2017 SIX NATIONS
Injury problems slowed the English juggernaut but Jones’ team has continued to get the job done, somehow.
England struggled to beat France 19-16 at Twickenham, a late try from Daly clinched a 21-16 win over Wales in an epic match in Cardiff, and England belatedly figured out Italy’s no-ruck tactics to beat the tournament minnow 36-15.
The All Blacks’ record was one victory away when Scotland came to London on Saturday confident from wins over Wales and Ireland and believing it could win at Twickenham for the first time in 34 years.
But England unleashed its best performance of the season, producing seven tries and scoring its most points against Scotland and tying the biggest margin against its oldest rival.
SURPASSING NEW ZEALAND
The All Blacks’ winning streak was ended in November by Ireland in Chicago, and the Irish have the opportunity to do the same to England next Saturday in Dublin.
England will not just be going for a tier one record of 19 straight wins. It will also be going for back-to-back Grand Slams in the Six Nations, which has been achieved only five times.