Eddie Jones's future as England's head coach will be decided within the next three weeks but the English Rugby Football Union insists it will not "overreact" after the squad's most uncomfortable Six Nations campaign since 1976.
While the RFU chief executive, Bill Sweeney, is promising “a brutally honest” review in mid-April, Jones is keen to retain his job and is said to be “up for the fight, big time”.
There are plenty of voices outside Twickenham who believe England’s fifth-placed finish should be the trigger for significant change and Sweeney acknowledges the RFU has been “extremely disappointed” by the defeats this year against Scotland, Wales and Ireland. A full tournament debrief originally scheduled to take place in early May has been brought forward and Sweeney accepts it is “massively important” for England’s 2023 World Cup prospects that the right decision is reached.
“It’s really important we get it right,” said Sweeney. “We need to lift the hood up, have a look in there and say: ‘Are we headed in the right direction?’ But let’s just do it with a bit of common sense, caution and calm. It’s important to stress that Eddie’s not in denial. He’s not quoting his win ratios, or previous tournaments or his record up to now. He’s just totally focused on going forwards. He knows it’s going to be a thorough and brutally honest debrief. We need to get to the facts of it and if we have to make changes we’ll make those changes.”
Jones has been in charge of England since the end of 2015 and steered them to the Rugby World Cup final in Japan in 2019. Following their heavy defeat against South Africa, however, the team's results have slipped backwards and Sweeney says Jones is as frustrated as anyone.
“He’s massively competitive and hugely disappointed. You would expect that. We need to have the debrief, go through all issues and all the things we need to know more about. You can’t just do nothing and we won’t do nothing. But at the same time it’s important we don’t overreact. It has been an unusual year [BUT]we certainly don’t want it to be an opportunity to wallow in excuses.”
The precise makeup of the review panel has not been revealed but will contain individuals from outside the RFU hierarchy who, among other things, will be asked to consider whether other factors beyond results, including the culture around the squad, need to be considered. “They do come into play,” said Sweeney.
“You couldn’t have somebody who is contra to the values of the organisation. Results do matter but you have to have that balance. People have to realise there’s a culture that exists around the RFU and we expect you to comply with that.”
Into that category will fall comments such as the “rat poison” jibes aimed at the media before the Ireland game which failed to impress Sweeney. “I didn’t like that, I don’t think anyone welcomes that. That doesn’t really help the cause.”
Suggestions that Jones has become all-powerful and does pretty much what he likes have also been dismissed by Irishman Conor O'Shea, the RFU's rugby director. "For anyone to intimate that someone might have too much power or doesn't get challenged – it's rubbish, it's living in Walter Mitty land," said O'Shea.
Sweeney is similarly adamant Jones does not operate completely independently of the RFU’s senior officials. “We are not in a situation where you’ve got the England team operating in an environment which is entirely separate from the RFU. There is accountability there.
"I'm not going to question his tactics round the lineout or talk to him about how Matt Proudfoot is doing around the set-piece. But to think he is totally on an island by himself, or there is no interaction, is honestly just not the case."
If the RFU did decide to make a change the field of alternative coaching contenders would not include Exeter's Rob Baxter who has again confirmed that, for now, he is not looking to move into an international role. "I'm under contract, I'm happy here and that is my biggest consideration," said Baxter, whose contract with the Chiefs runs until 2023. - Guardian