Joe Harvey Column: Thoughts on Eddie Jones & England

England were abject in their 13-27 loss to South Africa on Saturday
©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Coming out of England’s 27-13 loss to South Africa, the consensus surrounding Eddie Jones is largely the same; it’s time to move on.

The first non-English coach to reign over the side, Jones’ tenure has provided plenty of peaks and troughs. But in the wake of England’s worst calendar year since 2008, it seems as though the Australian may well be treading water.

On Sunday, the RFU sent out a release that their review panel would be meeting to dissect England’s fairly abysmal run of games this November, the boos at the conclusion of Saturday’s loss to the Springboks clearly ringing in the ears of the powers that be at Twickenham Stadium.

It is not the first time that a performance review of Jones has taken place, but for whatever reason this feels different, even if it wouldn’t entirely surprise you if the governing body fully backed the same coach they gave a ringing endorsement to following England’s third-place finish in the Guinness Six Nations this year.

Why it feels different? 

Well, I simply cannot remember a time that so many people have publicly said that this was the time for the 62-year-old to depart, even if the Rugby World Cup in France is less than a year away.

In his Mail on Sunday column, Sir Clive Woodward described the England team as “miles off where it needs to be”, Mike Brown saying that Jones needs to be “held to account” and Lawrence Dallaglio even questionedwhether the players have the mettle to compete at Test level.

Following England’s losses to Argentina [29-30] and the Springboks [13-27] in this edition of the Autumn Nations Series, Jones has put all the blame onto himself, describing his coaching as inadequate in the preparation – something you can only have a wry smile about at this stage – and you have to wonder if that statement is a sign of his coach similarly at the end of his tether.

Over the duration of the autumn campaign, apart from a mesmeric 10 minute showing against the All Blacks to draw 25-25 from 19 points down, England’s main boast has been how the players have bonded more significantly off the field.

Great, but it hasn’t meant anything on the pitch, has it?

That is something interesting in itself. It was at the end of October last year that The Times Chief Sports Writer, Owen Slot, published his report on the goings on in the England camp. In it, Slot outlines how players walk on eggshells around their head coach, in part explaining the high turnover of coaches and how he pushes players to the limits in order to find out how best to make them thrive.

Sale Sharks scrum-half Joe Simpson was recently interviewed on the RugbyPass Offload podcast outlines how players return from England camp as “shadows of their former selves” after extended periods with limited sleep induced by the anxiety of how the Australian runs things.

It adds to the odd notion of ‘well we didn’t win many games, but I’d give this bloke my last Rolo’ even further, the side keen to express their like for one another and how that is something to build on for the future.

In the same vein, England’s attack is viewed the same way. Since I personally began consistent England reporting, we have heard that same line trotted out again as if it’s the favourite to win the Surrey equestrian contest. 

That was quickly followed by England kicking to kingdom come in order to conclude the 2020 Six Nations and then the Autumn Nations Cup.

So, when England completed that comeback against New Zealand, well golly me, it seems as though we finally got it. Well, we didn’t. Quite simply, we were swept away like everyone else in the moments and forgot about the fairly dire 70 minutes of play which had preceded that spell.

Should the RFU decide to sack Jones, they’ll be on the lookout for someone new and at this stage, who that could be is interesting. In the wake of the Red Roses’ loss to New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup final, RFU CEO Bill Sweeney said that the next England coach didn’t have to be English and thus opening the door to the likes of Ronan O’Gara [Stade Rochelais, France] and Scott Robertson [Crusaders, New Zealand].

Each would be fine selections and certainly apply themselves well, while Warren Gatland has also been touted as an option. In terms of English coaches, you’d have to say that Steve Borthwick would be the leading candidate there, his work at Leicester Tigers speaking for itself thanks to the Gallagher Premiership title he picked up this year.

If that is the route which the powers that be choose to go down, whoever does take the job on would have their work cut out for them. England have nine games between now and the World Cup, five of which will come in the Guinness Six Nations in the New Year, while the other four are warmup matches.

Prior to lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in 2019, South Africa went through a similar change with the appointment of Rassie Erasmus. 

The 50-year-old did have more time to get his ducks in a row, although Handre Pollard and his teammates did feel the impact of a new voice almost instantaneously.

“We felt the impact immediately, by the personality he is and the way he does stuff,” Pollard said, “but in terms of rugby and on the field and he said with our new defensive system ‘18 games, that’s what it’ll take’.

“He knew that’s how long we had until the World Cup. It probably clicked a little earlier than 18 games, but I would say it took us a good year to find ourselves, really understand each other, knowing where we stood with each other, and then in 2019 we really kicked off with results, as you could see.

“2018 was up and down when we were trying to find our feet. It took about a year I’d say.”

Do you think that England would have enough time to get things in pace if Jones were to depart?

“It’s a difficult one,” the Leicester fly-half said. “Because basically the Europeans have that Six Nations, that’s what they have, and a couple of warmup games. It’s not a lot of time, so it will be tough.

“I’m not sure it’s even possible. But you never know. You never know.”

Sweeney’s own undressing from MP’s last Thursday as Jones unveiled his final squad of the year may also be a catalyst. Described as “living in an ivory tower” as Wasps and Worcester Warriors ceased to exist.

Perhaps after that experience and sitting in the stands at Twickenham as England were abject in their performance, lacked cohesion and simply were beaten by a far superior team, the CEO has decided that enough is enough.

Whatever this review panel turn up, they have to be decisive. If there is a flicker of doubt surrounding the coach in charge of England’s fortunes, they must act upon it; because for too long we have been hoodwinked by the “I’ve got a plan for how England can win the World Cup” line.