Matt Dawson column: ‘It’s unravelling for Jones – the RFU has a decision to make’


Matt Dawson BBC columnist graphic

After England’s defeat by South Africa, the Rugby Football Union has to take a long, hard look at the team and coaching set-up and ask itself a simple question: are we going to win the Rugby World Cup next year?

That is not the standard I’m setting. That is the bar that the RFU itself has set to measure England and Eddie Jones by.

After this year, with only five wins from 12 Tests, no-one can honestly say that they are on course to do that.

The tournament starts in 10 months. So something fundamental has to change if they are to get close to that goal.

The Armageddon decision is to let Eddie Jones go and allow someone to get in as head coach and make changes now, with the Six Nations ahead of them.

Or, if those in charge don’t change Jones, they tell Jones he has to change. And change something substantial and fast.

What was worrying for me about the England performance was the lack of consequence and responsibility for individual actions.

This was a big game. The world champions were in town and England had one game to put a gloss on a pretty patchy autumn campaign.

But, for all the talk about being adaptable and smart, England could not change the tide of the game when South Africa got on top after the first 20 minutes.

There wasn’t anyone taking the initiative to grab the game by the scruff of the neck or go off script to find a solution.

You look to your leaders – Owen Farrell, Manu Tuilagi, Maro Itoje, Tom Curry – and I didn’t see them providing that for their team. I thought this match would galvanise them and sharpen their minds. But they didn’t fire a shot.

When Jonny Hill retaliated against Faf De Klerk in his own 22, causing a penalty to be reversed at a crucial point in the second half, where were the voices to tell him that indiscipline can’t happen? Where is the peer pressure to be better? It is a little thing, but it is important.

They are a squad of hugely talented players and good people. They are really tight, there are some deep friendships in there. That is awesome. But they are together to win the World Cup. They all know that, they all want that, and, right now, they are falling short of that.

There have to be some tough conversations to talk about why they are playing the way they are.

In an ideal world, you would want Jones to go through to the end of his contract at the end of the World Cup in France.

He has done some great things for England rugby over the past seven years. But unfortunately, it is starting to unravel.

Other teams seem to have cottoned on to what England do – and what they do is not quite good enough.

The tendency is always to give someone under pressure more time because you want them to succeed. On a personal level, that is natural. But the vast majority of the time, it doesn’t work. And the vast majority of the time, you wish you had changed leader sooner than you did.

Unfortunately that may be the case for Jones.

Whether the RFU makes that call is another thing. Contracts, continuity, a lack of appetite for that big decision might mean it doesn’t.

But I think whoever you brought in – whether it was Steve Borthwick from Leicester, Alex Sanderson from Sale, Ronan O’Gara from La Rochelle, Scott Robertson from Crusaders – would spark an immediate improvement.

I think you would see some brilliance from England.

Eddie Jones
Jones took charge of England in the wake of their pool-stage exit from the 2015 Rugby World Cup

South Africa were disciplined and powerful on Saturday. They also had some X-factor out wide with the pace and skill of Kurt-Lee Arendse and Willie Le Roux. It was like the 2019 World Cup winning team, with an added dimension.

But I think England could do the same. They can play at that level and have a shot at the Rugby World Cup next year.

But they need new direction and impetus. The question for the RFU is whether Jones can now provide that.

Matt Dawson was speaking to BBC Sport’s Mike Henson.

Around the BBC - SoundsAround the BBC footer - Sounds

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *