England: Eddie Jones has officially left the building

James While
Former England coach Eddie Jones looks on.jpg

Eddie Jones swept into English rugby like a new broom, a man on a mission, one with single -minded clarity of purpose and with only one aim in mind – to win a world cup as Head Coach.

Today, the RFU announced, rather brusquely, that Jones had been ‘dismissed’ after their post – November review, an ignominious end for the man with England’s best win record as national coach, using a choice of words crafted to demonstrate powerful leadership.

Roller-coaster

It ends a roller-coaster ride of seven years. A journey shared with the most quotable man in sport, one where press engagement levels and relationships have never been more open or more honest, but one that almost inevitably ended in disappointment for all concerned.

The RFU’s haste to be seen to act was probably galvanised by the recent appearance of the RFU Executive at the Parliamentary Select Committee – one where they were accused of sleeping at the wheel and of masterly inactivity. The choice to release Jones without first deciding on their route to a successor smacks of a need to be seen to do something – whether that decision be right or wrong. There’s a question of whether the need for political credibility of the wider England Rugby management structure was placed over real rugby logic.

For those that know Jones well, he was a contradiction of a man; at times feisty and forthright, in others, calm and engaging, but always driven by a huge desire to make those around him succeed and be better people, players or, in the press’s case, better rugby pundits. Happier talking about club rugby than union politics, he welcomed questions around strategy and technicalities. Ones that challenged his thinking and looked under the hood of the sport and into the delivery engine of the game – but dare frame a question with emotional mundanity or ask about situations outside of Jones’ control, and the reply would occasion a deader bat than that of his sporting hero, Ian Chappell.

For the journalists in front of him, you had to earn his respect through personal rugby knowledge over and above an ability to present to a camera or to write tabloid headlines. In short, a presser with Eddie saw him mentally sort the wheat of integrity and spit out the chaff of superficiality, at times in a wholly brutal way.

His racial background – half Australian and half Japanese – gave for an interesting temperament; the natural ocker competitiveness and, at times, brash directness, fused with the honour, loyalty and attention to detail of the land of the rising sun, amplifying his contradictory nature. Loyalty – there’s a word that is so close to the Jones persona- he demanded it completely from those around him but gave it back to all of those that worked with him.

During his entire seven years and 81 tests as England’s leader, on not one single occasion was blame apportioned to players or his coaching team. Every single defeat was down to Eddie – ‘I didn’t prepare them well enough’ was a line often used, even when his players had wholly underperformed and let him down.

Where it fell apart

So, what went wrong? Jones’ single mindedness and work ethic were both his superpowers and his achillies heels. His myopic focus on winning a world cup possibly opacified a wider lens on winning Six Nations, leaving a tournament that was valued highly by fans as a Petrie dish of Eddie’s experimentation when it needed to be a structural plank of success.

When Covid hit in 2020, it restricted the development of planning, and England was reduced to a tighter bubble squad of 28. Factor in the immense choice and vacillating form of players, combined with Saracens’ demise and it’s clear that the disruptions of 20/21 did Jones no favours.

In the background, the emergence of both France and Ireland made England’s issues look much worse than perhaps they are. Both countries have a rich seam of world-class talent with stable domestic structures of excellence that the RFU can only dream of achieving. The excellence of those systems (particularly Ireland) is designed to create international success. In contrast, the English system is one based upon conflict between club and country, requiring any coach they employ to effectively enter a race with a huge handicap of a dysfunctional domestic system where the needs of England are subservient to the needs of the club. However, the key take out here is that arguably England didn’t actually get any worse post-2019. Other sides improved faster based upon a more suitable structure.

Two nonplussing Six Nations tournaments followed by a poor Autumn Nations series proved overwhelming to Jones’ tenure. Rumours of brutal environments within the camp were speculated upon without ever being proven or formally commented on by players other than a couple after their international careers were cut short. In the background, as mentioned earlier, the RFU have been rinsed by the media, the public and Parliament over the Worcester Warriors and Wasps affairs, and bluntly, Bill Sweeney and his review panel decided that Eddie Jones was no longer the best coach available.

Buying time

However, what they’ve also not yet decided is who is better than Jones. That question is still at large, with a vague statement about Richard Cockerill ‘managing the day-to-day affairs of the men’s’ performance team’. Given that there’s little to do between now and January other than organise a few Secret Santa lists, and that Cockerill’s endorsement by the RFU appears less than ringing, we can only assume that the breathing space is required to sort out contractual arrangements, with Steve Borthwick believed to be the anointed one.

It would be unthinkable to believe that a new full-time coach won’t be appointed very shortly and, at the very least, by the end of December with a January start date. The very notion that we might see a caretaker to the end of the domestic season and a new full-time one appointed thereafter in the warm-ups until the World Cup would be beyond farcical and would undermine any remaining vestige of credibility that the RFU Executive still have.

It would be rugby’s equivalent of losing Pep Guardiola only to appoint a combination of Albert Steptoe and Graham Taylor. To argue that a hodge podge of caretaker for five games and a newbie for a further four is preferential to a coach of Jones’ pedigree is absolutely risible. If that scenario came to pass, we might very well see further changes in the management of English rugby.

However, the bottom line is that Eddie Jones’ tenure has concluded. Maybe not quite in the way he hoped, and certainly not in the manner his supporters and advocates would have wanted, but when history looks back on his reign, one thing is a dead-set certainty: he left the shirt in a far better place than he found it.

As he commented to Planet Rugby- “I’ve had a good run. No complaints.”

Thank you, Eddie – it’s been a hell of a ride.

READ MORE: International: How Eddie Jones and Wayne Pivac’s win ratios stack up to their rivals