Maro Itoje insists England’s players and not Eddie Jones must be held accountable for their poor Six Nations performance in 2021.
Jones is fighting for his Twickenham future after a 32-18 defeat by Ireland condemned last year’s champions to fifth place, equalling their previous worst finish of 2018, which also came on the Australian’s watch.
A week after edging France 23-20 to hint that a revival was under way, they were overrun as familiar failings resurfaced at the Aviva Stadium, most notably their self-destructive indiscipline.
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A defiant Jones believes he remains the right man to lead England into the 2023 World Cup and, according to Itoje, he retains the support of his players.
“Eddie is a fantastic coach,” Itoje said. “He’s one of the best coaches I’ve worked with – his work-rate, his knowledge, his feeling with the players, the way he goes about his business – are genuinely second to none.
“As players, we need to be accountable for our behaviours. At the end of the day, Eddie can’t play the game for us.
“The players need to be accountable and if you ask any player who has been under Eddie, I doubt anyone will say differently. He’s a truly special coach.
“As players we need to grab hold of it and take ownership of our actions. We’re disappointed because we know that as a team we’re capable of so much more.
“It’s just on us. I don’t have any excuses here, we just weren’t good enough. We’re a team that can do so much more, but we didn’t show that.”
Losses to Scotland, Wales and Ireland have completed the reverse Triple Crown for the first time since 1976 to end the prospect of England supplying the bulk of the Lions squad for this summer’s series against South Africa.
Unless the Rugby Football Union chooses to act, Jones must wait until the autumn to gather together his full senior squad, with the July tour – if it happens – to be used as an opportunity for development.
In the meantime, England will lick their wounds as they come to terms with a campaign that indicates they are hurtling backwards.
“We’ve learned some lessons, some tough lessons. If I was to think of it holistically, if we’re going to learn the lessons, it’s best to do that now,” Itoje added.
“You never want to go through periods like this, but if this makes us a better team in the long run and makes us a better team when we get back together, then we can move forwards.
“It will make us stronger and more robust, but at the moment we have to be accountable for our performances.
“In terms of what I believe this team can do and what this team can achieve, nothing has changed. I truly believe that we’ve got something here.
“We’re not displaying the best of the team at the moment, but I genuinely believe we’ve got one of the best coaches in the world.
“I do believe we are going somewhere but we have to recover and take our medicine from this Six Nations.
“With everything, it’s how you respond, how you pick yourself up, how you go again.”
Mako Vunipola admits that, despite England’s young age profile, a number of players face uncertain futures.
“The coaches put us in a great position week in, week out mentally and physically to go out there and do our job,” Vunipola said.
“All the defeats this tournament were similar in how they happened, as a team we just weren’t good enough. This defeat will hurt and if we don’t learn from it we won’t be here for much longer.
“When things aren’t going right, there have to be changes. In this business of international rugby you can’t keep doing the same thing…that’s the definition of insanity.”
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