Jones, contracted until the end of the 2023 World Cup, has come under increasing pressure after England finished with just two wins in the Six Nations with several former players calling for him to be sacked. The RFU, however, issued a statement on Sunday insisting he has the union’s “full support”, going on to claim that it was “encouraged by the solid progress” made by England and that “strong positive steps forward” had been taken.
England, however, also finished with two wins 12 months ago and in scoring eight tries across the entire tournament they managed four fewer than last year. As was the case then, the RFU will hold a debrief into England’s campaign and while there are performance-related break clauses in Jones’s contract, there seems no prospect of the union’s chief executive, Bill Sweeney, invoking them.
Addressing the statement, attributed to an RFU spokesperson, the former England and British & Irish Lions wing and Guardian columnist Ugo Monye said on the BBC ‘s Rugby Union Daily podcast: “If you are going to make a statement on behalf of the RFU, I want to know who is saying it.
“I think everyone wants to know who is saying it. Who, in the eyes of the RFU, thinks that signified progress and that they are happy with how things are at the moment? My first thought was, in fact I had to read it again, I thought, ‘this is class banter’. Genuinely. Fundamentally, it’s just dishonest. There isn’t progress. Two out of five last year was an underperformance, hence why we had to have this deep-dive review, which questioned absolutely everything.”
The former Wales and Lions captain Sam Warburton, speaking on the same podcast, said the RFU was attempting to deflect attention from Jones’s future but questioned why it pointed to an “encouraging” campaign given the obvious anger among supporters.
“I think that Eddie has sat down with England and they’ve gone behind closed doors: ‘You’re going to be our guy until the World Cup, whatever happens, we’re not going to change our coach now. We’re going to do this so everyone gets off your back.’ I don’t think it’s true. It’s not honest, what they’ve said. Apart from Italy, none of the other five nations in the Six Nations would see two wins as progress. Don’t lie to us.
“It’s to try and get the press off Eddie’s back, so there are no questions of ‘should Eddie go?’ Everyone knows Eddie’s staying. Just say: ‘We know there are going to be questions about Eddie’s future. Eddie is going to be our coach until the next World Cup.’ If they said that, I think people would accept it. But what they’ve said … it’s blatantly not progress. If you’re Italy, it’s progress. If you’re England, it’s definitely not progress. It’s just a lie.”
The RFU, which declined to comment on the criticism, has said the playing squad’s feedback will be taken into account as part of its debrief but, publicly at least, they have come out in support of Jones. The hooker Jamie George said: “I think he’s absolutely the right man for the job. He’s been absolutely brilliant to all of the players so far and we’ve all got every confidence we can turn this around.
“The pressure shouldn’t solely lie on Eddie. The players have to take some responsibility on the back of a disappointing campaign. Eddie has got the full backing of the squad.”