Schadenfreude: pleasure derived from another person’s misfortune.
Seven years ago, at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, we arrived early in the morning to the Japanese team hotel in London, a modest building five minutes’ walk from the Houses of Parliament. The star attraction was Japan’s then coach Eddie Jones. The garrulous 55-year-old was engaging, called everyone “mate” and pulled up chairs for people to gather around. A natural talker, he had a feral strain to his personality that allowed him to speak his mind and occasionally lead him towards trouble. He didn’t seem to care.
Jones spoke candidly about how badly the then International Rugby Board treated the less powerful countries, and how the World Cup was unfair because of the disparity of resources, less time between matches and quality of games available to the Pacific nations.
A few days later in Brighton Japan beat South Africa 34-32 in the biggest upset in the history of the tournament. Japan had not won a World Cup encounter for 24 years, were 10,000-1 outsiders for the tournament and 349-1 on the betting exchanges to beat the Springboks.
Afterwards the spiky former Randwick hooker was coaching gold. England jumped. Jones became the first overseas head coach appointed to the team on a four-year contract, succeeding Stuart Lancaster, before twice extending it until the Rugby World Cup 2023.
This week former England winger Ugo Moyne said the Rugby Football Union (TFU) should be “bold” and replace Jones. Mike Brown joined the chorus. “I have stopped believing what comes out of Eddie Jones’ mouth,” he said, noting England just finished their worst year since 2008, with five wins out of 12.
Jones lost two of his four matches in the November Series, including a shock reversal against Argentina, with the only win coming against Japan. Following defeat by the Springboks, who played out the final 20 minutes of the match a man down when Thomas du Toit was shown a red card, England were booed off the pitch.
While Jones is being subjected to the heat of a thousand suns, he’s not the only one. Former Ireland fullback Conor O’Shea is collateral damage.
O’Shea is the director of performance in the RFU, taking up the role at the end of 2019. He has helped oversee the direction the team has moved over the last three years, with former England and Lion’s coach Clive Woodward claiming the movement has been largely downward.
“I know what it’s like to be successful at the top level of international rugby and I don’t see the qualities needed to do that in the leading figures at the RFU,” said a scathing Woodward. “It comes back to Bill Sweeney and Conor O’Shea at the top of the organisation, who aren’t good enough to be in their current positions.”
RFU chief executive Sweeney and Premiership Rugby boss Simon Massie-Taylor faced similarly biting criticism from a select committee last week after the financial collapse of Wasps and Worcester. The two Premiership sides went into administration 13 days apart in October, with both having been relegated and suspended amid searches for new owners.
Chairman of the select committee Julian White MP, accusing Sweeney of living in an ivory tower, put it bluntly. “You, frankly, have failed in this instance, and so has the RFU. Should you not be looking at your own position?”
There is no escaping the fault line that has appeared in English rugby, the players, the coach, the director of rugby and the RFU and Premier League chief executives. There is a mood for change, with the Telegraph even running a list of names who could replace Jones as he enters a two-week review period. That he has run out of track is also what the Times has argued.
The problem with Jones is his detailed, unforgiving history. For every “pull a chair up, mate” there is the “scummy Irish” after England had just been crowned Six Nations champions but were denied a 2017 Grand Slam following a 13-9 defeat to Ireland.
There is Wales being a “s*** place that has got three million people” and there is the risible comment about Johnny Sexton following a head injury. “I’m sure his mother and father would be worried about that. Hopefully, the lad’s all right on Saturday to play.”
Friends come and go but enemies accumulate. A fantastic bridge burner, the longer Jones is in place the more isolated he has become, and while his win rate is among the best of England coaches, it is not the numbers supporters look at but the outcomes in the bigger matches and the strongly-held notion they always belong at the top.
Jones is alone fighting his corner and if he goes may take a few with him. But just as when in charge of Japan, telling the assembled journalists what a lousy lot the governing body were, he was also strongly messaging he wasn’t there to make friends. So, he remains true to character.
“We didn’t play well today and I apologise for that. It is entirely my fault and I take full responsibility,” said Jones after the recent South African match. “Are we moving in the right direction towards the World Cup? Yes, we are. I don’t care what other people think.”
Compelling if not lovable, a siege mentality, a fractious personality and schadenfreude heavy in the air.