A number of questions hung over England and Eddie Jones ahead of their Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Australia on Saturday.
Were they undercooked? Was dropping George Ford a mistake? Were Mako Vunipola and Henry Slade ready to start? Could Owen Farrell be a decisive leader during the heat of battle?
All of those questions were answered swiftly and emphatically as England romped to a 40-16 win over the Wallabies in Oita and set up a semi-final showdown against holders New Zealand this weekend.
The cancellation of England’s final pool match against France due to Typhoon Hagibis raised questions about whether England would be battle-hardened for their first knockout encounter.
But when a coach as notorious for his intense training sessions as Eddie Jones is in charge, being underprepared is never an option.
The 59-year-old was confident in the build-up to the match that the additional rest would prove “ideal” preparation for his side.
And as the refreshed Billy Vunipola put in a mammoth shift alongside fellow back-rowers Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, it was evidently that Jones had been right.
England had the luxury of a fully-fit squad to pick from – bar Jack Nowell – and, despite some debate over Jones’s starting XV and in particular the absence of George Ford, the result vindicated his decision as he got the tactics spot on.
A back line including Farrell, Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade dealt excellently with the threat posed by 17-stone Samu Kerevi and 19-year-old Jordan Petaia.
Australia applied plenty of pressure early on, as expected, but were restricted to penalty kicks by a great rearguard display as England held their shape and refused to let the Wallabies pull them out of their defensive line.
It allowed England, who ceded much of the possession, to make the most of the opportunities that arose and they went into half-time with a 17-6 lead.
The decision to start Slade was also justified by what he offered in attack – in particular, his world-class assist for Jonny May’s second try.
Intercepting a pass near the halfway line, Slade produced a quick turn of pace and well-executed kick downfield for his team-mate to run on to, really handing England the ascendency in this match.
Meanwhile Farrell, England’s best fly-half defensively, also proved his worth as captain and kicker after missing a handful against Argentina in the previous match.
He made the right calls from penalties, opting to kick regularly to build up England’s advantage, and was successful with all eight efforts as he scored half of the team’s points.
The 28-year-old also ensured his side remained composed when Australia forced their way back into the match with a great solo try from Marika Koroibete just after half-time, which made it 17-16.
It was the one occasion the defensive line lapsed as Slade came out of position and left space behind him. It was also the last time Australia added any points.
Farrell continued to dictate play and promptly assisted Kyle Sinckler for the advantage-restoring third try as England’s attacking lines continued to open up the Wallabies.
Anthony Watson added a fourth late on after intercepting a desperate pass out wide from Kurtley Beale.
‘Not at our best yet’
Unlucky to lose the No10 shirt, Ford came off the bench to great effect with 20 minutes to go and was hailed by Jones for his “spectacular” involvement.
His game management skills are second to none and, as Australia sought to mount a comeback, he ensured they were pinned back in their own half, unable to get out.
“I did not drop Ford, I changed his role and it was brilliant,” Jones said. “Are we vindicated? We’re happy that he played his role well. Modern rugby is a 23-man game.”
It was a convincing win, although not as comfortable as the All Blacks’ 46-14 demolition of Ireland a couple of hours later.
England will now face New Zealand in Yokohama this Saturday and Jones, who has always insisted he should be judged on this World Cup, says England have not yet reached their peak.
“We just want to keep challenging ourselves,” he said. “We haven’t played our best yet and the challenge for us is: how do we get better next week? How do we get better individually as a player? How do we get better as a team? These World Cups, that’s what it’s all about.”