Eddie Jones: New Contract for England’s Australian Hero
Harry Scott Munro, Online Sport Editor, provides an analysis of Eddie Jones’ tenure and his future challenges following a new deal during the Covid-19 lockdown
Amongst the cacophony of articles and news concerning the Covid-19 outbreak, you may have been forgiven for failing to notice the big breaking news that slid out of RFU HQ, that of Eddie Jones’ contract extension.
With his previous contract due to expire in 2021, Jones himself had stood by the mantra of being judged on results in regards to earning himself a new contract. His words served as a warning to his players, as much as a challenge to himself that, despite a highly successful tenure to date, boasting a Six Nations title, a Grand Slam, 3-0 whitewash victory in Australia and a World Cup final appearance, nobody is irreplaceable, not even the Head Coach himself.
Jones’ two-year extension will take him through to the conclusion of the 2023 World Cup in France, making his time in charge of England his longest job to date at eight years in length, also making him England’s longest serving coach.
After falling 80 minutes short of his initial goal of making England the ‘best side in the world,’ Jones’ latest assertion is that he wants to create a ‘team that is remembered as being the greatest team the game has ever seen.’ It’s a lofty, if not extreme aspiration but one that is designed to create a target for current England players and the new blood that will make the transition into the squad.
Jones’ reputation as a confrontational and abrasive coach has been imprinted onto his England side, with notable performances against Australia in June 2016, South Africa in November 2018 and famously in the World Cup semi-final against New Zealand springing to mind for the sheer physicality of the English performance. With a 78% win rate, the Eddie Jones era has been filled with positives. A first series victory away in Australia in 2016, the 17 game unbeaten run at the start of his tenure and two 6 Nations titles to name but a few.
However, for all he’s achieved in the game and with England, doubts remain in some quarters over his ability to consistently deliver results and adapt. Jones himself has admitted he made a mistake in his team selection for the World Cup final by naming an unchanged side, rather than a team for the final, a match in which England were ultimately brushed aside by South Africa. 2018 saw the side slump to six defeats on the bounce, their worst string of results since the end of the ill-fated Andy Robinson era in 2006.
This poor run of form forced Jones into a rethink of his tactics and selection ahead of the 2018 Autumn internationals and 2019 6 Nations, allowing the combination of Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade in the centres to hit their best form during the 6 Nations and slowly easing out the old guard of previous captains Dylan Hartley, Chris Robshaw and long-standing servants such as Mike Brown.
It was a brave move but one that ultimately paid dividends for Jones and England., allowing young players like Tom Curry and Sam Underhill to flourish.
As we look ahead to the oncoming years of the Jones reign, an immediate position of concern to address must be the lack of depth at scrum-half. Ben Youngs was set to win his 100th cap away against Italy before the game was postponed but his current back-up Willi Heinz is 33 years old. Jones has a plethora of talented young 9s to look at but as yet, has been unwilling to do so, something he must do once international rugby returns.
With Owen Farrell seemingly nailed on as captain for the foreseeable future and a leadership group that is continuing to grow in experience, the wry smiles, blunt press conferences and crash-bang style of rugby that have come to be associated with Jones will surely continue. History shows that despite ups and downs, he has a knack of creating an environment the majority of players love to be a part of and one where his teams always tend to peak at the right time.
This can surely only be a good thing for England once rugby returns again.