English players want more games away from Twickenham
Players enjoyed their final World Cup warmup match against Italy in Newcastle
England versus Italy at St James’ Park in September. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
England’s World Cup players have urged the English Rugby Football Union to take more international matches away from Twickenham. England played their final World Cup warmup match against Italy in Newcastle in September – their first home Test match away from HQ since 1997 – and the squad want to make it a regular occurrence.
More home matches at Twickenham were cited as a key reason for the RFU returning to profit in its most recent accounts published this month and in the absence of any autumn internationals this year, the union is forecasting a loss in next year’s annual report. Matches at Twickenham, which holds 82,000, can generate around £10m for the RFU whereas the fall-off for the match against Italy at St James’ Park, where the attendance was 50,157 and required a rental fee, was substantial.
England’s two home matches in the 2020 Six Nations will be held at Twickenham, as will all four of next year’s autumn internationals, but the RFU chief executive, Bill Sweeney, was open to the possibility of going on the road in 2021. Sweeney took part in a comprehensive post-World Cup review panel, chaired by the former sports minister Hugh Robertson while the former England coach Brian Ashton is also believed to have been involved. Twenty-seven of the 32 players who took part in the World Cup also gave their anonymous feedback.
“The players really like [playing in Newcastle],” said Sweeney, who also warmed to the idea of playing a “home” match abroad en route to a touring destination, as Wales have done in Washington DC. “The players really enjoyed travelling around the country and Newcastle did a great job. We would always look at moving the team around. It is something that came up in the debrief, the players liked the freshness and the change of going round the country.”
Sweeney insisted he was comfortable with Jones’s additional employment in Japan and said he has established a process to vet all of the head coach’s extra commercial activities. In November, Jones, who is contracted with England until 2021, was announced as director of rugby of the Japanese team Suntory Sungoliath.
Having previously coached Japan, Jones’s profile in the country also led to a number of lucrative commercial deals in the buildup to the World Cup while he caused the RFU considerable embarrassment when derogatory comments about Wales and Ireland during a commercial engagement surfaced.
Jones and the RFU are yet to explain how he can be England’s head coach and the director of rugby, albeit on a consultancy basis, for a club 6,000 miles away, whose season runs from January to May.
Jones is currently in Japan and while Sweeney was adamant that he is on leave than being there in a working capacity he has been pictured on social media for the past two weekends, apparently attending Suntory pre-season matches. He was also pictured this week in what appeared in a capacity for Suntory, facilitating the introduction of a piece of “health and wellness equipment” made by Protea Japan Co.
“The situation is a bit of a unique one in the sense that has connections with Japan so it was obvious he was going to have a high profile there,” said Sweeney. “Any work he does in Japan is on his own time so it’s not during RFU time. I’m comfortable we’ve got the right processes in place now to manage his commercial activity so anything he does comes through a formal approval process, we have to sign it off and then take it from there.”
Sweeney also denied that Jones’s recent book – in which he made the candid admission he should have dropped George Ford and Mako Vunipola for the World Cup final – was cause for concern. It is believed some players are unhappy Jones was permitted to release a revelatory book so soon after the World Cup when the squad were not allowed to write newspaper columns during the tournament.
“We had full view of content and we input to that and manage that so I think we’re OK,” he added.