Tuesday 12 November 2019

Combative Jones should remain in role - but only if his inner fires are still raging

England head coach Eddie Jones. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
England head coach Eddie Jones. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

Mick Cleary

As Sunday morning dawned in Tokyo with a watery sun unable to make up its mind whether to appear properly or not at all, it somehow captured the mood within the walls of a dazed, disconsolate England camp: was the glass half-full or half-empty?

England tried every which way to express their feelings in the wake of their seismic loss to South Africa in Saturday's World Cup final: gallows humour, snakiness, deadpan delivery to dead-eyed stare, social media mea culpas and some wise words, too.

None could properly deal with the abruptness and completeness of that scoreboard, 32-12, the equal second-heaviest margin of defeat in a final.

Eddie Jones was in particularly combative, snarly mood, gracious to South Africa but unable or unwilling to share his analysis of where it had gone so horribly wrong on a day when the world was watching.

It cannot be shrugged off as one of those things that happen in elite sport.

There may be some truth in the minutiae of that appraisal, that there is a butterfly-wings effect that is impossible to resist as the tree topples in a distant forest.

Splinter

Did England arriving 20 minutes late cause the scrum to creak and splinter so horribly? Jones says it had nothing to do with it. Yet micro moments are what this squad were supposed to be prepared for. They even rehearsed that very scenario.

Jones bridled at the fact that the thrust of the questions turned on the notion that England had been a failure. The head coach kept throwing back the refrain that "we are the second-best team in the world", that "we have silver medals".

Well, so they are and so they have. But even understandable as it was in the moment, players ought to have respected the ceremony and taken, as well as worn, their medals with more grace.

The more serious issue lies in defining this four-year era. By Jones's self-imposed criteria it has been a failure. He was the one who flagged up "November 2, Yokohama" as Destiny Day. Winning the World Cup was the oft-stated aim. Those were the terms of reference constantly flagged up by the England management and coming up short on that ideal cannot be airbrushed out of the post-event discussion.

England were happy to accept plaudits for their performance against New Zealand so the flipside must also be taken on board. If they had played like this - limp, rash and feckless - in a warm-up match they would have been criticised. In a World Cup final that scrutiny intensifies tenfold. All these points are ingredients in the debate: for and against; pro-Jones, anti-Jones.

What for the future? It would be madness to see any sort of knee-jerk reaction. That would be wholly inappropriate as well as hypocritical.

There was not a peep of objection in the build-up to the final as to the talent pool available, so there is little point making a crusade now for the roster to be ripped up and new names inserted willy-nilly.

England fielded the youngest starting XV of the professional era for the final. It is not as if this generation will not still be operating in four years with the exception perhaps of Dan Cole (32), Ben Youngs (30) and a couple of others. Age is not an issue. This is not an over-the-hill squad.

Attitude

As for Jones, only he knows if those inner fires are raging, as they must do to get him through the next World Cup cycle. The environment, metaphysical as much as technical, created by the head coach, the resource, the attitude, took every last waking moment of the 59-year-old's life to set up and then inculcate.

Jones has a two-year deal to continue to lay those foundations and then to push on or push off. Only he can determine that. Certainly the Rugby Football Union wants him to continue.

There will be new guns such as Worcester's centre Ollie Lawrence and back-row forward Ted Hill, along with Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith and a younger Vunipola, Manu, at Saracens.

This England squad need the succour their clubs can provide, some backslapping, hugging and a few words of barbed banter.

The sun may have set on this particular group's quest for glory. The future for England is bright enough, though, for there to be rays illuminating the landscape ahead even if on a murky morning-after in Tokyo, it did not feel that way. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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