Eddie Jones is poised to learn his fate as the England head coach in the next fortnight with the Rugby Football Union conducting a review into the “really disappointing” autumn campaign, stating that results have not been good enough.
Bill Sweeney, the RFU chief executive, will lead the review, holding a series of meetings with board and executive members as well as former players and coaches, whose participation is on the condition of anonymity, over the next two weeks and deciding whether to back Jones through to the 2023 World Cup or replace him with barely 10 months to go.
In a short statement on Sunday, the union expressed its dismay at an autumn campaign with just one win from four matches, and opted against giving its public backing to Jones.
Removing Jones at this stage is a nuclear option but while he was given the RFU’s full support after another torrid Six Nations campaign this year, the statement on Sunday was more circumspect with well‑placed sources pointing to a reluctance to pre‑empt the review. Sweeney is also under pressure to be proactive after he was accused of being “asleep on the job”, at parliamentary inquiry last week over the plights of Worcester and Wasps, with the World Cup‑winning coach Sir Clive Woodward expressing his dismay at the union’s leadership.
The wretched defeat against South Africa on Saturday ensured England finish 2022 with just five wins from 12 matches, bookending their worst run of results across a calendar year since 2008, with Jones braced for an “uncomfortable” review. He is likely to be grilled on his players’ discipline, the quality of his coaching staff and his leadership group, having emphasised the importance of those aspects during a presentation he gave to the RFU council shortly before the autumn campaign. Players may also give feedback amid reports of discontent in some quarters.
It is understood that at the beginning of the season the RFU’s target for the 2022-23 campaign was for Jones’s side to be ranked in the top two or three in the world. That in itself was a tempering of expectations – the previous year the goal was to be ranked first or second – but Jones’s side sit fifth and the gulf between England and the leading contenders for the World Cup has been laid bare throughout 2022.
At full-time on Saturday a chorus of boos rang out at Twickenham and, though Jones said he did not hear it, Sweeney made pointed reference to the views of supporters.
“We would like to thank England fans for their patience and support, it matters to us how they feel,” Sweeney said. “Like them we are really disappointed with the results of the Autumn Nations Series. Despite strong individual performances and some great new talent coming into the team, the overall results are not where we expect them to be.”
Jones acknowledged the review will be painful but he remains convinced he has a plan in place for England to win the World Cup. “[Reviews] are always uncomfortable when you’re not winning,” Jones said.
“I haven’t found the review comfortable when you’re not winning. [Bill will] have his opinion, based on what you guys write, and I’ll have my opinion. And we’ll share it. We’ve always got a plan. I’ve got a plan for how England can win the World Cup, but it doesn’t go in a perfect line.”
Jones was due to hold meetings with all of his squad on Sunday and said he intends to largely stick by his current crop of players as well as a handful of those out injured such as Courtney Lawes. “This will be the base of [the squad],” he said. “And there’ll be other players to come back in when they’re fit and ready. We’ve picked everyone who we think are the best players, fit and ready, for this campaign, and we’ll do the same thing for the Six Nations, then we’ll do the same for the World Cup.”
After England’s two defeats this autumn, Jones has blamed individual errors, specific areas of the game or circumstances such as how his side begin campaigns slowly because, coming from so many different clubs, they lack the cohesion of their rivals. After South Africa’s victory Jones expressed his disapproval at how Angus Gardner refereed the scrum.
“I have grave concerns about how the scrum was refereed,” he said. “But that’s part of the deal isn’t it? You’ve got to live with that. One of the things I have learned about coaching is you have to find the major problem, and the major problem was the scrum.”