Stuart Lancaster is still the nice, approachable, considerate chap he was at the start of the year when he charmed rugby’s birds from their trees and came to palsied England’s rescue.
But make no mistake, time has moved on and the head coach’s honeymoon is well and truly over.
Nine months after the affable former Leeds coach was hand-picked to restore humility to the national rugby team, in the wake of the disgraceful Rugby World Cup campaign, England expects. And it expects more than just a group of polite and humble players who show a bit of pride in the shirt and 80 minutes of honest endeavour.
Starting on Saturday Lancaster’s side get four opportunities to show they have more than those basic requirements when they take on Fiji at Twickenham. Greater tests against Australia, South Africa and New Zealand lie ahead.
Results wise Lancaster must target a bare minimum of two wins but in truth if he is to claim progress the bidding starts at three victories.
And this is where performance levels come in. By the time England play the All Blacks on December 1 they need to have developed a game-plan, or even better a couple of game-plans, with realistic aims and a logical and coherent thought-process.
For too long England have been an insipid Test team intent on stifling opponents but with little idea about how to break them down. Lancaster has to put the attack back into the national team.
And you’d have to say after the summer’s messing about the signs aren’t that promising. First Andy Farrell couldn’t bear not fulfilling his contract with Saracens, then he missed the thrill of the Test match.
In the mean-time Lancaster brought Mike Catt on board only for Farrell’s U-turn to leave him with both a backs coach and an attack skills expert. There is a danger of too many cooks, another variable cannot simplify the thought process.
How Farrell and Catt integrate, divide the work and communicate with the players will be key to what England do with the ball. Let’s hope it’s not muddled. There is also the risk of compromise in terms of selection. It all starts at fly half and England have to identify their man, stick with him and build round him.
For the next four games, and perhaps even for the entire Six Nations, I would go for Toby Flood who is playing supremely for Leicester. I like the way he engages defences by standing flat, is brave in defence and is emerging into a world class place-kicker.
The next pieces in the puzzle are the combinations around him, scrum half and inside centre, and if these partnerships complement each other England are halfway to being a decent unit. My XV v New Zealand: Brown; Sharples, Tuilagi, Allen, Monye; Flood, Care; Marler, Youngs, Wilson, Parling, Lawes, Haskell, Robshaw, Waldrom.