Somethings never change and once more there have been lots of murmurings about Eddie Jones this week. Jones is a figure who captivates the press, and with good reason, at his best he is interesting, engaging, and inspired. Occasionally, he veers into territory that is more dark, erratic and capricious. Jones is the Jose Mourinho of rugby, he polarises opinion, and he has a unique ability to dominate and shape the narrative to his will.
At the minute those, Jones’ position looks far from secure, and one gets the feeling that is a deliberate move. His contract situation remains unresolved and certain comments made by the RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney may suggest the RFU are far from committed to ‘Jones 2023’, but, as ever, the most revealing soundbites have come from Jones himself.
“I’m committed to a two-year contract to England so it would have been difficult to get out of that,” the Australian remarked earlier this month, admitting that he had been approached by Rugby Australia for the then vacant Wallabies job. That phrase, “it would have been difficult to get out of” is very Jones, but it is not particularly reassuring for those who believe Jones is the man to lead England into France 2023. The door, quite deliberately, has been left ajar.
Whilst Jones may not have wholeheartedly committed himself to England, it takes two to tango in situations such as these, and the RFU have been equally obscure. Indeed, Bill Sweeney has indicated there may well be advantages to jettisoning Jones.
“New Zealand have just appointed [Ian] Foster on a two-year contract,” Sweeney said. “Erasmus came in 18 months before the World Cup. Is it better to have someone in there for the four-year period leading up to it? It may well be, more stability, but I wouldn’t say there is a date in the diary when we have to make a decision otherwise we’re not going to be ready for France .”
What does all this tell us? Ultimately, not a lot. Eddie Jones may not be in charge in 2023, neither he or the RFU would be particularly devastated if that situation were to unfurl.
However, that in itself is revealing. It is for precisely this reason that Eddie Jones should not be offered a new deal, and the RFU should begin planning for his succession. If neither are fully committed then this is a relationship, already strained in periods (there was talk of Jones departing to coach in France just last year), is doomed to fail.
Jones was perfect for England in 2015. The culture was in place, but it needed a winner, someone cutthroat and abrasive to show England how to win. Now, I think Jones has taken England as far as he can. There is a new generation coming through, if they are to peak in 2023 then evolution is required, and Eddie Jones is not the man for that job.
Rugby is a game of shifting sands. In 2017 Jones was the messiah, then he was a fraud, at the World Cup he again became a prophet of rugby wisdom, before the final removed some of his veneer once more. Regardless, he is a coach of near unparalleled quality, but regardless of that, in time things inevitably get stale, repetitive, draining – sometimes all that is needed are fresh faces with fresh ideas.
Written by Joe Ronan.