RFU give Eddie Jones flimsy nine-word backing after England slump to sixth straight defeat
Eddie Jones has received a terse statement of support from the Rugby Football Union as the governing body’s senior figures declined publicly to endorse the England head coach’s tenure after his side’s fifth successive Test defeat ended hopes of salvaging the three-match 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 the World Rugby rankings published on Monday.
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 power and 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 on Sunday 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, amid suggestions that their statement had been carefully worded from an employment law perspective.
England’s tour was in danger of unravelling on Sunday 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’ European Champions Cup tie with Ospreys. The injury will be assessed when he returns to Saracens this week.
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 on Monday 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.
Ben Youngs also apologised for his post-match reaction when he ended an interview with Sky Sports, the rights-holders, after 10 seconds.
Clive Woodward was highly critical of Youngs’s behaviour and the England scrum-half later took to social media to apologise.
Tension also boiled over in the aftermath of the defeat as Jones accused a BBC reporter, Chris Jones, of being “aggressive” in his line of questioning. When asked if he could reverse the slide, Jones told BBC Radio 5 Live: “I’m 100 per cent confident; 100 per cent as you are aggressive.
“You’re nature is very aggressive, mate. That’s fine. I’m happy to answer that aggressive questioning.”
The RFU released a statement on Sunday to the Press Association saying that Jones had written to Bath owner Bruce Craig to apologise for calling him “the Donald Trump of rugby” two weeks ago over a spate over injuries sustained during England training camps.
Jones, who guided England to back-to-back Six Nations titles in his first two seasons before a fifth-place finish in this year’s championship, came out fighting in the wake of his side’s latest defeat, claiming he was confident he could arrest their slide.
“I know as a coach you have a certain role and if I wasn’t doing that role as well as I could, I would have a loss of confidence,” said Jones.
“My job is to make the team win and it is not winning. But I have also got a job to do, which is the process of coaching. I think I am doing that as well as I can.
“I haven’t had too many times when I have experienced this. And it’s tough.
“Sometimes you have to be very disciplined in the way you think.
“In these sort of situations you get a lot of advice, there is a lot of things wrong.
“But we are only two to three per cent away from turning this around.”