SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: Eddie Jones has got to put up or shut up

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: Eddie Jones has got to put up or shut up… there can be no second chances with England, they are the only side in the Six Nations going backwards

  • England are in a deep hole of their own making after Six Nations disappointment 
  • The RFU must acknowledge their ‘cosy club’ and halt the decline right now
  • To hear boss Eddie Jones insist that England had improved was nonsensical 
  • There will be no more chances for under pressure Jones in Twickenham hot seat

England are in a deep hole of their own making and frankly, it’s Eddie Jones who has been and is doing all of the digging.

As a former England player and head coach it is not remotely enjoyable or easy to criticise.

I know only too well how painful defeat is, how desperate the team is to succeed and how unjust criticism can feel.

Eddie Jones has been and is doing all of the digging for the hole England find themselves in

England were awful against the Scots, awful against Ireland and not much better against Wales

But criticise we must. This is now very serious, with nowhere near enough scrutiny from the RFU concerning an England team that has become a cosy club. England must acknowledge and halt the decline right now.

To hear Jones insist on Saturday night that England had improved since the opening-game defeat by Scotland was nonsensical.

England were awful against the Scots, awful against Ireland and not much better against Wales. And the failings were exactly the same. This England team is going nowhere playing like this and any talk of progress is delusional.

Let’s spell this out. If you disregard Italy, England are the only Six Nations side going backwards.

All the signs of England’s decline were there throughout 2020, when Jones refused to reboot the tired England game plan and have a look at some of the alternative talent.

I genuinely believe the Premiership is the strongest league in the world. But what’s the point of ignoring the claims of many of the English players — many of them young who regularly excel in it.

Jones is not handling the pressure well. Back in the autumn, when it was becoming a chore to watch England, he ranted about the media’s lack of ‘respect’ when they offered what I felt was constructive criticism.

But because England were scraping wins in a competition that didn’t matter against teams who were experimenting or in transition, he pointed to the ‘wins’ column — which the RFU suits were happy to accept without question.

If you disregard Italy (pictured), England are the only Six Nations side going backwards

I was astonished last week to read this utter nonsense about the media planting rat poison in the players minds! I cannot fathom how he sees that as a constructive or acceptable comment.

From what I’ve read and heard the media comments have been universally objective and fair.

Copping constructive feedback comes with the job. Occasionally I would pick up the phone and talk differences out with a journalist, and there were some lively conversations, but the media are not bloodthirsty trolls poisoning players minds

The press box is filled with former players and commentators who have devoted their lives to the game. It is ignorant to believe their opinion is not valid. On other occasions I would adopt the statesmanlike approach, which the players seemed to do last week. Ben Youngs and especially Jonny May spoke well about how disappointed they had been with the team’s performances, particularly the Scotland game. But how they found themselves against France was definitely the template going forward.

England were scraping wins against experimenting teams in the Autumn Nations Cup

And then what happened on the eve of this important away game against Ireland, when England needed to show they could back up after France? Jones torpedoed their confidence, the team’s momentum and created a huge distraction with all this talk of rat poison. Does he not trust players to think for themselves and make their own judgments?

The result, predictably, was a team that reverted to its bad habits – bad kicking, bad discipline, failing to bring Anthony Watson and Jonny May into the game.

Of course it was going to be a slightly different, feistier game, but the same excellent basics and tempo from the French win needed to be implemented. Alas all the good from Twickenham seven days earlier went down the plughole.

As a former Test player, former national coach and fan I am invested emotionally in English rugby but I find some of the stuff Eddie says astonishing.

The comments about the media but also that twaddle about not developing an attacking game until near the World Cup or how it is impossible to play attacking ball in hand rugby under the new laws to mention just a few.

That kind of thinking is what I call ‘careerist’. Of course building a world beating team takes time, you will make mistakes and suffer lossess. But high performing teams play as though every game could be their last, from the coach downwards.

They do not suggest that we will do it in two years’ time, or that the laws are not fair. Every time England take to the field is an occasion to cherish,an opportunity to inspire the nation. Now more than ever.

Jones (left) should be given no more second chances with England after Six Nations disarray

I don’t detect any fire and fury over this within the RFU. In my days I would have to explain myself to the likes of Francis Baron at Executive level, Fran Cotton in terms of the pure rugby side of things and rugby diehards on the Board like John Jevons-Fellows, Peter Trunkfield and Cliff Brittle. That trio I promise you will be turning in the graves.

Senior players such as Martin Johnson, Lawrence Dallaglio and Jason Leonard also chimed in and I had a brilliant backroom coaching staff, full of independent thinkers who although ultra loyal were not yes men.

They challenged my thinking and although I was always in ultimate control, believe me I did not lack for internal feedback! That’s how it needs to be. Its a massive strength not a weakness.

There is something missing culturally with this team. England’s forward coach Scotsman Proudfoot described the excellent Tom Curry as the next Ritchie McCaw – well in my mind the next Neil Back would be more appropriate.

It seems Eddie has nobody standing up to him and asking what the hell is going on. As CEO Bill Sweeney needs to take this on board but of course he is in no position to question Eddie on any rugby matters.

There is nobody at the RFU holding him to account at any level. In rugby terms he is absolute in his powers with England which is never healthy and positively dangerous when he is getting things so wrong.

The Lions could not come at a better time for Eddie and England. Those England players who ‘tour’ will return with new ideas and rugby experience and those who don’t will hopefully go on a squad tour to North America.

It will buy Eddie some time but come the autumn the message will be clear. No more second chances. Put up or shut up.

Don’t lose the Six Nations drama to paid-for TV channels

I’m exhausted just trying to replay in my mind everything that happened in Paris on Saturday night but my overriding emotion is what an incredible advert it was for Six Nations rugby and how important it is that the tournament stays on terrestrial TV when the rights come up for grabs this week.

As a spectacle it was one of the greatest Six Nations games, with every conceivable twist and turn played out by two teams going at it full bore, and I await with interest the prime time viewing figures which I suspect will have gone through the roof.

I believe BT Sport and Sky do an amazing job, and Amazon did a fine job covering the less than compelling Autumn Cup last year. But there are occasions in the crowded sporting calendar that rugby needs the kind of mass audience that only terrestrial TV provides. It’s not just about the highest bidder.

my gut feeling is that Wales probably deserved to win against France in their Paris cracker

As for Saturday night, my gut feeling is that Wales probably deserved to win although I had tipped France — but sport is like that. Alun Wyn Jones (left) and his team thoroughly deserved their tilt at a Grand Slam but up until the last decisive 10 minutes at the Stade de France they had probably enjoyed the rub of the green.

Then the rugby Gods turned on them.

You had to feel for Wales, they produced comfortably their best performance since the Warren Gatland era but lost their first game of the 2021 Six Nations. There is so much for Wales to be proud of though, not least the emergence of Louis Rees-Zammit. His disallowed try was a fraction from being one of the greatest finishes in Test rugby.

As for France I would expect them to beat Scotland on Friday and get a try bonus but I am doubtful they will beat them by a sufficient margin to make up the points difference. It will be another nail-biter but this time there will be Welsh joy. 

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