Now that the lights have gone out, Eddie Jones will feel a deep sense of regret for not being able to complete his epic mission in England. So close became so far.
What a ride it’s been. Often glorious, ultimately frustrating and baffling and dismissive, but never boring. Jones is about to be sacked after spending almost exactly seven years in one of rugby’s hottest spots, turning England back into a thunderous juggernaut before running out of a way.
Where to start? At the end. This had to be done, but the timing is far from ideal. No organization can claim that one of the best plans includes a total overhaul nine months after the biggest tournament in sport – and barely two months before another major Six Nations campaign.
Eddie Jones is about to be sacked after almost exactly seven years in one of rugby’s hottest places
Many will say the RFU should have acted sooner and that is what the results suggest, but they wanted to believe in Jones and his belief that he could bring them the ultimate prize.
That’s the problem with him; the Australian was, is and always will be a powerful and convincing character. Until he reached the abyss, he firmly believed that he knew how to solve countless problems that had hampered his team and how to propel England towards their global goal. But the evidence continued to undermine his once indisputable arguments.
In the end, there was forever no escaping the facts. They seem to have finally caught up with Jones. England could only win five of their 12 Tests in 2022. Their last two Six Nations campaigns have seen four wins in 10 matches. They have also become Europe’s annual showpiece, raising fierce doubts about what they could achieve in France next fall.
The Australian started his tenure in England with a record 17 consecutive Test wins
A series success in Australia in July momentarily eased the pressure, but it ultimately served to cover up so many cracks. England triumphed Down Under with spirit and strife and sheer grafting determination, but without the flowers to suggest they really were building another shining edifice.
What happened last month was further evidence that progress was still elusive for Jones. He was steadfast in supporting Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell’s 10-12 axis against a backdrop of outside doubt, but elsewhere the selector wheel kept spinning.
England did not seem to have established a preferred position or a coherent master plan. They lost to Argentina, beat Japan, took a draw against the All Blacks with a late rally and then collapsed against South Africa.
That latest setback was the final straw for the RFU hierarchy, whose support for their head coach turned to dust in the face of a rare burst of unrest from the Twickenham stands. To hear the loyal hordes booing their team off the field after watching the weakened Boks win 27-13, with the blazers in the posh seats.
Jones was under a lot of pressure in 2018 after England lost six games in a row
So they acted after their patience ran out. In doing so, they have finally taken a stand against the official Red Rose party line that things will be fine on the night – the night is when the World Cup is coming up.
England fans had long since grown weary of the argument that Test defeats could be tolerated once the bigger picture took shape, partly because they were paying up to £200 per ticket and partly because the bigger picture was still alarmingly hazy.
Steve Borthwick is going to have a great job to do. England needs clarity and sense of direction and the clock is ticking. They are crying out for selection stability, set pieces, fluidity in attacks and a freedom in their game that has been sorely lacking lately. The salvage operation is daunting and time will tell if the former Red Rose captain can handle it.
Although England have ground to a halt since 2019, Borthwick still has a tough job to follow. When Jones took over from Stuart Lancaster he immediately oversaw a record 18 consecutive test wins. He won a Grand Slam on the first attempt and led the national team to an unprecedented series whitewash in Australia. There was a new air of purpose and intent and trust. The new head coach made England more assertive and they were unstoppable.
Tom Curry’s emergence helped England reach the 2019 World Cup final
Of course, they eventually stopped winning every game. The return to Earth started in Dublin at the end of the Six Nations 2017 and then 2018 was the year the regime ran into trouble. England lost six games in a row – including a non-cap clash against the Barbarians at Twickenham – and Jones was under pressure for the first time.
That time he turned the tide. A revamp of his coaching staff paid off, as John Mitchell and Scott Wisemantel brought new ideas and impulses. England were also buoyed by the emergence of Tom Curry and Sam Underhill – and the so-called ‘Kamikaze Kids’ played an important role in their run-up to the World Cup final in 2019. It ended in tears in Yokohama and would ultimately prove that the latter major highlight of Jones’ tenure.
Defeat to injury-stricken South Africa at Twickenham last month proved to be the final straw for the RFU hierarchy
While the coaching changes in 2018 had a revitalizing impact, there have been too many along the way. It has come to be known as the ‘churn’ of the Jones regime; with coaches and staff coming and going with worrying frequency.
They have often struggled with the intensity of the workaholic figurehead. The same can be said of many players who have found the English environment savage and joyless, though the familiar core has remained true to the last.
Those like Ellis Genge, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes and Kyle Sinckler have reason to salute the man who fueled their international careers. But many others have been sacrificed harshly and hastily – and not always for reasons that could stand scrutiny. Jones has always been adamant in ignoring all outside calls for or against certain players or tactics.
At least he can say he’s stayed true to what he believed, and his overall record can rival that of anyone else who’s taken on arguably the greatest job in rugby. But the early momentum could not be sustained. England’s struggle for results and identity could no longer be tolerated