How come? That the Six Nations are nothing more than a development vehicle for Eddie Jones for the World Cup. That an English attack, which produced three tries in just four games outside of Italy, can be described as “very good”. That there can be so much raving about gross mediocrity.
or Jones praising his team’s progress as if they and not France had won the Grand Slam is pure gaslighting. Still, Rugby Football Union has embraced the Eddie cult wholeheartedly, speaking of “strong positive steps” and “solid progress” after three defeats. Pass the Kool help. A third-place finish is a fig leaf that doesn’t spare the outrage of another two-win season after Saturday night’s 25-13 loss to the French.
Of course, Jones is in the spotlight, but Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney needs to step out of the shadows. Twelve months ago, Sweeney promised a “brutally honest” debrief of England’s fifth-place finish. The subsequent report, compiled by a panel of anonymous “experts,” delivered not a single word of reproach for Jones. Now the RFU has given up any pretense of holding Jones to any sort of accountability.
Apart from a few discussions about concussions, Sweeney has not been heard from since, as Jones has been allowed to give All Blacks fly-half Beauden Barrett “golden nuggets” of advice in Japan and to write a book on leadership that disparaged several current England players. Watching Jones in action is like one of those dogs charging through a park on a leash while his owner insists he’s just being friendly. One has to wonder who is really running the show at Twickenham.
In Sweeney’s time as CEO, England have drifted from World Cup finalists and winning a sluggish Six Nations in 2020 to four wins in the last two tournaments. It is impossible to imagine that Stuart Lancaster, who never finished below second place, would have survived similar results. The Rugby World Rankings, updated today, will show England have fallen to fifth when RFU chairman Tom Ilube declared last September that England should be “consistently first and second in the world”.
But according to Jones, it’s all part of the plan. Just wait until the World Cup. Just wait until I get three straight months with the players and everything will be fine. Just wait and shut up.
Jones can rightly point to how they rebounded from fifth place in the 2018 Six Nations to reach the World Cup final 18 months later. He has three Six Nations to his name and his win rate is the highest of any England head coach. In an early morning press conference, Jones used the word “faith” three times. But that belief must be willfully blind to the current trajectory of this England team.
In their last 20 Six Nations games without Italy, England have won eight games – and that includes winning the 2020 title. There were plenty of references within camp to ‘what if’ they beat Scotland and Ireland in the final quarter would have coped better. But that can be turned around to say what if Wales hadn’t made such a miserable start at Twickenham before time ran out to close a 17-point deficit.
“The results are the results, but if you look beyond the scoreboards, I think this team has grown a bit,” said scrum half Ben Youngs. So let’s judge the performance. The campaign as a whole was not without its bright spots. Ellis Genge came of age at the front. Full-back Freddie Steward was sovereign under the high ball. Marcus Smith sparkled at times, while Joe Marchant showed up well when not being shuffled in and out of the team.
And that’s basically it. Individual flourishes were undermined by a total lack of collective understanding ball in hand. A return of eight tries and the fewest broken tackles of any team, including Italy, only hint at how dysfunctional the attack was on the field.
“One of the things that we did really well was attack well up to 22,” Jones said, which would be like saying this car would be really fast if it only had wheels. The problem is that this is more of a trend than an outlier. England’s attack only looked like a cohesive force as Scott Wisemantel led the show en route to the 2019 World Cup.
Then comes the collapse. This was identified as a key area for improvement in last year’s debriefing. Against France, they coughed up four turnovers in the first half alone when they broke down. France were nervous and made 18 handling errors but are still a league above England. If Jones thinks there’s only a 3 percent gap between the teams, he’s kidding himself.
However, as made perfectly clear by the astonishing testimony of the RFU, what Jones says holds true. Aside from Twickenham being burned to the ground, there are virtually no circumstances that would jeopardize his role. Jones will lead England to the 2023 World Cup. Perhaps next year advertisers outside of Twickenham will be able to exchange tickets for trinkets of faith. It will be sorely needed.
Telegraph Media Group Limited 
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/six-nations/for-eddie-jones-to-hail-englands-loss-to-france-as-progress-is-pure-gaslighting-41468951.html That Eddie Jones hailed England’s defeat by France as “progress” is pure gaslighting