Sacked Eddie Jones – an enigma who changed England rugby

Sacked Eddie Jones - an enigma who changed England rugby

Eddie Jones should go down as one of England’s greatest coaches. Indisputable, even as the RFU sacked Eddie Jones overnight.

That should not be his epitaph though.  Let’s not forget that no England coach has a higher win percentage than Eddie – 73% -and that includes his nemesis, Sir Clive Woodward. Eddie Jones was an enigma who changed rugby. For the better.

True, the headlines today will focus on the disappointing results over the last 12 months that led to his sacking yet hopefully, Jones will be remembered for the many good things he did for England rugby.

Charlie Inglefield picks out some of Jones’ finest moments during his entertaining seven-year reign.

Sacked Eddie Jones – an enigma who changed England rugby

Eddie Jones came into the role in November 2015 with England rugby at rock bottom. A disastrous and controversial 2015 Rugby World campaign ended in total humiliation for England, who were the hosts. Jones then took England on a 17-game unbeaten stretch that saw them win a Grand Slam, a 3-0 series whitewash away in Australia, and then the 2017 Six Nations.

Jones brought in his famed work ethic, and an approach crafted by some of the best corporate and sporting minds around.  It was the shot of adrenaline that England rugby desperately needed at the time. In Jones’ mind, England were unfit and needed to step up on the ever-changing international stage.

He did things ‘his way’. Perceived bad boys Dylan Hartley, James Haskell together with the under-fire Chris Robshaw were unequivocally backed and a ‘new’ England was launched. That first game at Murrayfield against Scotland in 2016 was crucial – England got through 15-9 on their way to a Grand Slam.

It wouldn’t be until England went down 13-9 to Ireland on the last weekend of the 2017 Six Nations that Jones would taste defeat for the first time in an England jersey. It was a remarkable run that got everyone associated with England rugby back on their team’s side. Eddie Jones was an enigma who changed England rugby. He was an innovator, taskmaster, and strategist that England rugby had not seen since the Woodward days.

The Australian had his critics; that grew more so over his full tenure, however, the way Jones coerced the RFU and their stakeholders was a lesson in ‘charisma over diplomacy’.

Looking back; Jones’ greatest performance

After England lost 23-12 to South Africa in the second test in Bloemfontein (having been 12-0 up) I remember writing that England needed to consider sacking Jones. England had led in both tests only to capitulate in the second half and it followed on from a 2018 Six Nations where England had lost three games on the bounce. It was a rash and stupid statement.

Having seen England sweep all before them for 12 months, I assumed that England would carry on their winning ways. It was the right decision by the RFU to back Jones. Perhaps he was saved by a backs-to-the-wall performance in a rain-sodden Cape Town where a dose of Danny Cipriani brilliance saw England win the third test.

In this writer’s opinion, the greatest match under Eddie Jones reign then took place in the first game of the 2019 Six Nations:

  • England tore Ireland (who were reigning grand slam champions) apart on their home patch. the 32-20 scoreline did not do justice to just how good England were on the day. They were irrepressible with backs and forwards moving in sync, playing to England’s traditional strengths and then unleashing outwide when opportunities presented themselves.

As well as that, England’s 2019 World Cup campaign was Eddie Jones at his best. They had been efficient and effective progressing through the group stages. At the heart of it was Jones’ meticulous planning helped by his Japanese heritage. No stone was unturned as England went through the gears. Australia was duly dispatched in the quarters leading to a showdown with the mighty All Blacks in Yokohama.

Jones famous night in Yokohama a career highlight

I would still maintain that England’s performance against Ireland in the 2019 Six Nations was Jones’ greatest match. However, it would be hard to argue just how good England were when beating the All Blacks 19-7 on that famous night in Yokohama.

It was Jones and England rugby at it’s best. They were near perfect that night. Owen Farrell’s mischievous smile and England’s haka formation, set the scene. England blew the All Blacks away in all facets of the game and the scoreline did not reflect the dominance of Jones’ team that night. Sam Underhill and Tom Curry were brutal and relentless in the tackle as they had been all tournament. George Ford and Owen Farrell pulled the strings beautifully in tandem with Ben Youngs. Then came South Africa and we all know what happened in the final.

In the end, sacked Eddie Jones’ downfall was the ‘inconsistency’

People will rightly point to a disappointing 12 months that saw England win just five games out of 12 matches. But in truth, England had been struggling for some time. England have had two disappointing Six Nations tournaments, particularly around their discipline and an attacking strategy that has been blunt for some time.

It is perhaps the latter two facets of the game which have slowly eroded the fans’ patience with Jones. England has consistently conceded 10 or more penalties per game. Most of them have been entirely avoidable. As a result, England’s opponents have been given a leg up into the game. When England go well it is because they have continuity to play their style and grind teams down. Recent performances have seen England having to do a lot of defending and chasing because of their penalty count.

England’s attack has been non-existent over the last 12 months. There has been so much narrative around how England are ‘nearly’ there when it came to putting their attack together. It simply has not happened. Jones was obsessed in persisting with Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell. It has not worked and does not look like working. England’s backs have looked misaligned and confused as a result.

This year’s Autumn International Series was the final straw and everyone sensed it.

Many observers cannot remember many times fans walking out of Twickenham at half time let alone booing their team off the pitch. It felt like Jones had lost the crowd. For the majority of the November series England have looked flat, uninspired and lacking on-field leadership. Having the safety net of playing at home is such a significant advantage on the international stage and England failed to inspire the Twickenham crowd.

The general consensus is that the players backed Eddie Jones and there was harmony off the field. And yet on the field, England looked lost and indecisive.

A case in point was Marcus Smith booting the ball into touch when England had the chance to launch a final attack against the All Blacks. They were up against 14 men and in with a shout of an extraordinary win. Smith is one of the most exciting players England have had in many a year, so it is hard to believe he would do that of his own volition. The reaction of players like Henry Slade and Billy Vunipola would suggest that it was not a unanimous decision.

When England was winning, we forgave Jones’ increasingly erratic barbs in the media. Sadly, the results have rendered a sacked Eddie Jones narrative, especially around the playing style of his team, monotonous and repetitive.

It is a big call from the RFU to sack Jones so close to the 2023 World Cup but necessary given that England is in need of a reboot and new ideas. There are still nine games to go and there is no reason why England cannot do well in the World Cup. Just look at what Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes have done with the England cricket team.

By conclusion, Eddie Jones was an enigma who changed England rugby and it has been a hugely entertaining seven years with a lot more highs than lows.


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