Saturday 20 July 2019

Jones fails to get full RFU backing as Vunipola tops injury list

Eddie Jones. Photo: Reuters
Eddie Jones. Photo: Reuters

Gavin Mairs

Eddie Jones has received a terse statement of support from the Rugby Football Union as the England governing body's senior figures declined publicly to endorse head coach's tenure after his side's fifth successive Test defeat ended hopes of salvaging the series against South Africa.

The governing body released a brief statement saying only that: "The RFU supports Eddie Jones and his coaching team," stopping well short of declaring why the Australian was the right man to lead England to the World Cup in Japan next year.

The RFU also declined to make Steve Brown, the RFU chief executive, and the governing body's chairman Andy Cosslett available for interview to address England's slump in form, which could see Jones's side slip to sixth in today's World Rugby rankings.

The 23-12 defeat at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein ended England's lingering hopes of keeping the series alive as the team once again surrendered an early lead, as they had done in the first Test in Johannesburg, undone by indiscipline and their inability to cope with the intensity of an inexperienced Springbok side.

Defeat at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday would equal the worst run of results since 2006, when former head coach Andy Robinson was sacked.


In January, the RFU handed Jones a two-year contract extension to 2021, but it is understood it includes a performance-related break clause depending on how far England progress at next year's World Cup. RFU insiders said last night that the governing body had no plans to reconsider his contract, but the lack of a ringing endorsement left their position open to interpretation.

England's tour was in danger of unravelling last night as they were rocked by a fresh injury blow to Billy Vunipola, who returned to London after re-fracturing the arm that kept him on the sidelines for four months at the start of the year.

Vunipola was forced off with the injury before half-time in Bloemfontein, six months after first breaking his arm in Saracens' Champions Cup tie with Ospreys.

Ellis Genge, the Leicester prop, has also returned to the UK after picking up a knee injury in training last week, while Mako Vunipola's tour is also over as he flew back on a happier note to attend the birth of his first child.

Exeter Chiefs' Alec Hepburn will join up with the squad in Durban today to provide cover for next weekend's match.

Controversy marred the aftermath of the latest defeat in Bloemfontein, with Joe Marler reportedly swearing at an England supporter in a heated exchange at the end of the match. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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