Eddie Jones has been sworn in. With a double quick march, (highlighting the haste with which some things can be done) a ‘foreign’ coach takes control of England for the first time in English rugby history.
Jones’ CV includes words like Saracens, South Africa, Japan; this Australian has been a foreigner before. He is a man able to cut his cloth accordingly, adaptable and adept at working with what he’s been given. You could argue his current employers have few limitations on what they can provide.
He has a glint in his eye and drawl to his voice which indicates he knows how to play the media game. Trotting out platitudes and all encompassing mission statements is often what settling in is all about. But settling in is not really what was needed here, is it? Nobody is up for feeling comfortable having been knocked out in the group stages of their own World Cup, are they?
And this is where I start to feel a little disappointed. When I first heard Jones’ name mentioned, I was excited. Here was the medicine man England needed; a wind of change; an eddy, if you will. Someone able to affect transformation, who didn’t mind upsetting people. If it was broken, he’d say so, and then he’d tell you how to fix it. In a newspaper column, he previously addressed issues in England’s game with a clinical lucidity: it is ridiculous that the best English players aren’t playing for England; Chris Robshaw isn’t a good enough seven; we need to have ball players in the midfield.
So now, having got the job, we get a different story. And I understand why, I’m not naīve enough to realise that there wouldn’t have been negotiation on signing his contract. He can’t come in and start throwing crockery around; the relationship with PRL is fragile. But is there really anyone in charge of a Premiership team who thinks the current set-up is best for England RUFC? It is a political solution put in place to create a workable situation. Yes, there are strong benefits of keeping England players in England but it does, without doubt, prevent the national side from picking the best XV if the best players are currently abroad. And what happens if a player, off the radar at the moment, not progressing at his current club, takes up an offer from France and starts playing the rugby of his life? Why on earth would you not have the best players playing for their country? Just think about that. Listen to this phrase: some of the best players in the world are English but England won’t let them play for England. That’s bonkers. It’s completely and utterly self defeating. Eddie Jones was right.
So why didn’t he say, “You know what, I understand the situation and I agree with the clubs; the best English rugby players should be playing in the Premiership, but I also want the best English rugby players playing for England. I’m here to assess every option and make the situation better for everyone. I don’t want change for change’s sake but England performed poorly in the RWC. I need to look at every possible reason why that could have happened and how we can stop it from happening again. My role is to make England the best team they can be.”
Coming in and saying “Yeah, I can work with that,” just completely ignores the problem he had previously highlighted. He might as well have said ‘I’ve gone on record and said it needs fixing, well, the first thing I’m going to do is accept that I have to work with something that’s broken.’
As regards Robshaw, he could have said – “In the past, I’ve not been a fan of Chris at seven but of course, outstanding performances from him can always change my mind. He’s under the same consideration as everyone else…” Etc etc?
Saying “I was just being naughty, I didn’t really mean it,” makes me wonder what else he doesn’t mean? With all the distrust around the England team at the moment, do we need someone admitting he’s been part of the meddling? And what other media fun and games will ensue? After all, his Robshaw comments came during the World Cup (Oct 5th) when he was in charge of Japan and supposedly concentrating on them, rather than being a devious columnist. Is he going to write a column during his England tenure?
I’m afraid that it feels disingenuous to me. Jones can look a little disingenuous at times. In his interview with England Rugby TV, there’s a lot of smiling and prefabricated responses, which lead to a couple of awkward silences. And pragmatism. How many times is this mentioned? A word heavily associated with his predecessor. How did pragmatism work out for him? Are there different sorts of pragmatism? Is Jones’ version better than Lancaster’s? Maybe it’s just a word Ian Ritchie likes. Maybe Eddie worked out it was a word that would get him hired. He seems to enjoy saying it.
My point is, I thought we’d brought the right doctor into the house. For me, Jones’ record and the things he’s been saying were attractive. But having got here, he suddenly seems a bit too keen to make the patient feel at ease; tell us everything’s ok. He seems reluctant to diagnose because that would probably bring bad news and some home truths. There’s obviously a few things wrong with rugby in England at the moment; they didn’t all just leave when Stuart Lancaster walked out the door. I don’t think we should just smooth things over and carry on as before.
I’d love to be proved wrong. By all means, come back to this article in the future and correct me; I’ve been wrong before. But at the moment, Eddie Jones is a man who seems to be doing a lot of smiling and saying yes, when I think we really need him to be occasionally shaking his head and furrowing his brow.
Let me put it like this – if you were unwell, how would you like your doctor to behave?
Sam Roberts © 2015. (Text only). All Rights Reserved.