Toby Flood: It’s time to decide whether to back or sack Eddie Jones
The identity of a team built in the mould of Jones has disappeared.
As England’s autumn campaign ended, and the boos echoed around Twickenham, another campaign started. The one to remove Eddie Jones from his position as head coach of England.
He is not alone in world rugby at the moment, with many coaches wondering if they will see in the new year let alone the World Cup as head honchos.
For a while the English waters have been turbulent for Jones, with the sharks in the media thrashing and circling for some time.
But the performance against South Africa was potentially enough for the Rugby Football Union and its review panel to make that call.
It was a truly tough performance to watch for an England team that is fortunate to have a wealth of talent and experience. The pre-game talk swirled around the importance of this match for both sides, and it was South Africa who dominated while the hosts were rarely seen getting out of second gear.
Much has been made of the midfield axis of Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith, and how those two are not firing, but as ever these things are never so simple. International rugby has become all about ruck speed and the gainline.
Love it or hate it, defence wins championships and so speed of ball has become the holy grail.
Allowing players in attack to stress defences and make easier and quicker decisions than their opponent is vital. England did not have that.
There is an argument those decision makers at nine, 10 and 12 can create space and speed of ball, but the fact England were wallowing in tenth place for the autumn internationals in the ball-speed statistics stakes meant there was little or no hope for the men in those three shirts.
Potentially a shake-up of the system is in order. Playing Manu Tuilagi at 12 and Henry Slade at 13 may stress teams and create space – but it feels an over-simplified answer.
England have lost a little of their identity of late. Originally a fundamentally fierce, combative team built in the mould of their coach, this has disappeared. The search for ideas and solutions to that defeat in the 2019 World Cup final has seemingly never uncovered an answer to the key problem – what happens if you meet a team in a winner-takes-all game who are just better than you at doing exactly what you are good at?
As we watch on, questions mount not only for Jones, but also over what this team stands for. Jones feels this team are growing, and that they are close, and looking at their personnel it is understandable – Lions, 100-cappers and an arsenal of talent. But it is not working.
The RFU panel has a tough task on its hands. Remove Jones now and it goes against all its principles and morals stated in the last few years when questions were raised. Beyond that, which coach would want the role?
Five games in the Six Nations, and three warm- ups, is not much when players will spend the majority of the ten months between now and the World Cup at their clubs. It is time for the RFU to make a decision, and quickly.
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