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Gordon D'Arcy: An open letter to Eddie Jones

Latest verbal volley unveils greatest fear for England – leadership, or a lack thereof

Dear Eddie,

No “bat phone” so penned article will have to suffice. It was a funny line but methinks this latest, and now annual, verbal volley aimed at Johnny Sexton unveiled your greatest fear for England: leadership, or a lack thereof.

Owen Farrell is a force of nature but his captaincy remains in its development stage. Nor is he the absolute English leader. You still feel the need to announce joint-captaincy with Dylan Hartley.

The Northampton hooker is well liked, say many who play with Hartley, and you’ve stuck by him since day one but his disciplinary record stretches deep into our consciousness, and not just the referees.


Both of them – Hartley and Farrell – are injured which highlights another deep-rooted problem outside your control. Not to worry. Tadhg Beirne and Iain Henderson have been scratched off the Ireland roster while Sexton and Rob Kearney continue to nurse niggles.

Confidence must be rising now Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi are back battering into opponents. That said, if this dynamic duo is what you’ve been waiting for all this time then England have more issues than we know.

That can’t be the only reason for the downward spiral since your near flawless opening two seasons as England coach.

As you well know, Joe Schmidt relies on attention to detail and collaboration, but since 2015 Ireland have been all about the next man up. No Conor Murray in November, fine, in goes Kieran Marmion. No Marmion or Luke McGrath, here comes John Cooney after his game defining Welford Road cameo.

That’s the way it currently works for these Grand Slam, All Black beaters.

Of course England do have some leaders. George Ford being one in a struggling Leicester squad. My old pal Geordie Murphy is blessed to have him. He bleeds tiger blood. That’s so important nowadays. I was at the Ulster game doing comms for BT Sport (Christ almighty was it cold) and saw how Ford was constantly trying to work Tuilagi into strike positions or shouting at Jonny May to remain defensively solid in the face of Jacob Stockdale.

After a few false starts, when I mostly traded off natural talent, I became one of the silent leaders at Leinster

I remember an adolescent George catching balls behind the posts at Ireland training way back when his dad Mike was Irish rugby’s first real defence coach.

If Farrell doesn’t make it back from thumb surgery, Ford gets a chance to reignite his international career on February 2nd. My issue is he doesn’t have the autonomy to drive England the same way he does Leicester and it limits the impact he can have in a white jersey. I wonder is that his failing or the environment?

Last Sunday I was sent to Coventry – no pun intended – to observe a decent looking Wasps side (on paper), with All Black outhalf Lima Sopoaga and England lock Joe Launchbury wearing the armband, fail to triumph over a Sextonless Leinster.

Saracens and Exeter aside, English clubs are not growing their own leaders anymore. They are spread too thin for starters and the foreign recruits I’ve watched up close in recent seasons are not making big enough contributions. Nowhere near the level of James Lowe and Scott Fardy at Leinster or Nick Evans used to do at Harlequins.

Leading by example

Again, that makes a massive difference. You know the old adage, “leadership cannot be taught, it must be learned.” After a few false starts, when I mostly traded off natural talent, I became one of the silent leaders at Leinster. We had our captains. We had our senior playing group. We had your old pal Cheiks and then Joe. What we needed to learn in order to win trophies was that the quiet player must lead by example.

This continues to be the Leinster way. Maybe I showed a young Fergus McFadden a little about what was required day in, day out but I can say with certainty that Ferg has led the way for players like Rory O’Loughlin and Jordan Larmour to replicate his voracious work ethic. None of these men are captains, and yet they lead by actions. I could easily be listing Munster names.

I reckon you showed your hand a little too much. Come on, be honest, you'd give your right arm to have a captain who can speed dial a referee mid-game

Maybe you’re right, Eddie, maybe this is the strongest England squad you’ve ever assembled. Ireland will definitely struggle to contain Manu at full tilt. It’s great for the game to see him and Billy healthy again. But, speaking of centres, what do you make of Garry Ringrose? Nothing spectacular but those Ben Smith levels of consistently accurate performance, be it attack, defence or positioning showcases another one of those quiet leaders that success gets built upon.

England have the players. No doubt. We saw Saracens and Maro Itoje power past Glasgow, we witnessed Exeter’s nail-biting duels with Leinster and Munster in the past 15 months.

It’s about hitting the right note off the field as much as on it. Tricky balance, especially when we compare the cultural development in Ireland to how English clubs and the national team struggle to coexist.

But I digress, where was I? Oh yes, your latest pop at Johnny. All in the game I suppose. A leopard never changes his spots. Maybe you feel it has worked in the past but didn’t you have to apologise (and promise to apologise to Johnny) at press conferences on the eve of this upcoming fixture? What was all that about again? Oh yeah, mentioning his parents in one snide remark and there was last year’s “scummy Irish” mess. Do the ends really justify the means? Sir Clive Woodward and Stuart Lancaster are good examples that a coaching legacy is not just about win-loss records.

Anyways, here we go again, targeting Sexton on and off the pitch. It’s the English way on your watch. If you win it can be justified, I suppose, and in November there were signs of life after beating the Wallabies, the Springboks (thanks to Owen’s shoulder charge) and Japan with the All Blacks put to the pin of their collar.

Game of games

Now we stand 10 days out from England visiting Dublin – still the game of games around these parts – and all we hear from you is a dig at Sexton about a direct line of communication to the referee (Jérôme Garcès by the way) when we know it will be Rory Best doing the talking in the first hour or so. Johnny will probably take over if Pete O’Mahony’s usual kamikaze show has him regenerating in the West Lower. Was that the idea? To plant a seed in Garcès’s head when Johnny starts talking in an official capacity or was it just for laughs?

I reckon you showed your hand a little too much. Come on, be honest, you’d give your right arm to have a captain who can speed dial a referee mid-game. Maybe it does give “Ireland an advantage” but they’ve earned it, no?

Great leaders talk to referees. They know when to be rough and when to be smooth

Farrell will get there but I’m still seeing Johnny circa 2013. Super aggressive, full throttle in all dealings so the bat line tends to get disconnected; the dreaded sentence a frustrated Owen and Johnny have heard plenty of times: “Back you go.”

Sexton did get in a tangle of words (and stares) with Frank Murphy down in Thomond Park but that was a parochial affair. Jonno has north Kerry blood, you see. Bound to happen whenever he leads a blue sortie down south. Unavoidable craic was to be had.

Leaders of Sexton’s ilk are few and far between in English rugby and anywhere else. Maybe I’m being unfair but the benchmark from my days lining up against the red rose is Martin Johnson and especially Big Lol.

Lawrence Dallaglio was the original Batman. His chatter to referees used to drive us mad. There was a mix of everything – intimidation by his sheer size, encouragement and friendly banter with plenty of on-field guidance. The ref had a Christian name when a call went against Wasps or England. Pleasantries about how a penalty was the wrong decision but “we’ll swallow it” as he back-pedalled. The message always crystal clear: “This time, mate.”

There was nothing we could do about Dallaglio’s constant coaxing and back then the microphone didn’t pick him up as much as people are catching snippets of Johnny these days.

(I particularly remember how deflated the 2005 British and Irish Lions squad was by his early departure from New Zealand through injury – we never recovered, truth be told.)

Great leaders talk to referees. They know when to be rough and when to be smooth. Maybe you hold men to a higher standard in England camp than what they are accustomed to in the Premiership and that being your only source of players, and therefore leaders, it doesn’t appear to be producing the captains of old.

Not like O’Mahony, Best and The Caped Crusader. The red phone only gets used when The Joker comes to town.

All the best,