England coach Eddie Jones is not “bulletproof”, his boss has said, following a dismal Six Nations campaign.
Jones’ position was again called into question after England’s 25-13 defeat by Grand Slam champions France in Paris meant they had lost three out of five matches for the second successive tournament.
The 62-year-old has guided England to three Six Nations titles, including a Grand Slam, as well as a 2019 World Cup final in Japan where they were beaten by South Africa, since his appointment seven years ago.
But his career record suggests Jones, the coach of his native Australia when England defeated the Wallabies in the 2003 World Cup final, is at his best in the early years of a job.
It would still be a major shock were Jones, the highest-paid coach in rugby, to be sacked before next year’s World Cup in France given his contract expires after the tournament.
But Bill Sweeney, the chief executive of England’s Rugby Football Union, warned: “No one is bulletproof. No one is indispensable. I’m not indispensable. If we felt we weren’t heading in the right direction, of course he [Jones] is not bullet-proof. He knows that himself.”
Nevertheless, Sweeney pointing to the emergence of young talents such as flyhalf Marcus Smith, said there were solid reasons for the RFU to back Jones, who took England from a fifth-place finish in the 2018 Six Nations to a World Cup final the following year.
“It’s not just emotional or blind faith,” he said after a 2022 Six Nations where five of England’s meagre eight tries came during a 33-0 rout of perennial strugglers Italy.
“France are second in the world…They’re a really good team. But do we think that we’re going in the right direction to be able to close that gap? We do.”
France’s Grand Slam success owed much to a defence organised by specialist English coach Shaun Edwards, who previously helped Wales win three Six Nations titles under Warren Gatland. That all happened long before Sweeney arrived at Twickenham, although he met with Edwards 18 months ago.
“I said: ‘Have we ever approached you?’,” recalled Sweeney. “He said: ‘Someone called me but it wasn’t a serious call and wasn’t followed up. And I quite liked the idea of going abroad and doing something different’.
“Did we miss him there? Possibly. He’s done very well there (France) and we certainly know who he is.”
England travel to Australia for a three-Test series in July before facing Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa, as well as Japan, at Twickenham in the autumn ahead of next year’s Six Nations, with Sweeney buoyed by Jones’ record of 18 wins from 22 matches against the ‘big four’.
“If you’re going to win a World Cup, you’re probably going to beat at least three southern hemisphere teams, maybe four,” he said. “He’s a good coach against southern hemisphere teams.”
Sweeney, however, said the longstanding thorny issue of a congested club and international schedule was also hampering England’s progress, for all their wealth and playing numbers.
“From 2004 to 2015 we only won one Six Nations. Why did we only win one in 11 years? Why have we only won one World Cup despite all the resources? It kind of points you to a deeper conversation about the structure or maybe the areas we need to address or find better ways of delivering.”
© Agence France-Presse