Four weeks after the 2021 Six Nations, the Rugby Football Union sent out an email.
More psychological help to players. Judges give advice on improving discipline. Integrated analytics model.
It is unlikely that this was something root. Another gentle topiary. After another disappointing Six Nations was completed defeat by France on Saturday although some are calling for the most dramatic version: the departure of Eddie Jones.
Captain Courtney Laws came out to defend his coach on the eve of the match, calling rumors about Jones’ work “ridiculous”.
But, of course, it is not the results on the field that make the change of coach far-fetched.
England finished third in this year’s Six Nations, but their record of two wins, three losses is the same as 12 months ago.
They scored eight tries, five of which came from the bottom of Italy, four fewer than they managed in 2021.
They also broke fewer tackles than any other side, despite the promise to loosen the reins and display a more attacking style.
The dissatisfaction of English fans is growing. Parts of the media turned openly calling for the immediate departure of Jones.
The theory is plausible: a new coach will give the team a boost ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup.
It’s not too late yet. This is the moment in the last cycle when South Africa traded the floundering Allister Coetzee for Rassi Erasmus. Eighteen months later, Shia Kolisi was lifting the trophy in Yokohama.
Australia reached the final in 2015 after dropping Ewan McKenzie last year and bringing in Michael Cheika.
France reached the 2011 exhibition with little to no coach as the relationship between Marc Lievremont and his players collapsed.
But reality is dirtier than theory.
The role of England head coach may be rugby’s biggest plaything given the resources available and the number of players available, but elite managers don’t line up to play.
Former Wales, British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland, who now works with the Chiefs in New Zealand, will have to row. promise never to take responsibility for Twickenham.
Rob Baxter from Exeter intends to fulfill the contract at Sandy Park until next year.
Sean Edwards, France’s English defensive coach, has more than two years left on his contract and he certainly doesn’t want to part ways with him. such an exciting project.
Scott Robertson, the all-conquering Crusaders coach, would likely prefer to see if he gets a job with the national team at his native New Zealand job rather than swap hemispheres.
Steve Borthwick, former England captain and assistant manager, most likely given how he transformed the Leicester Tigers in a short time. But it would be a breakneck move given his relative lack of testing experience and head coaching experience.
Erasmus, for all his coaching qualities, certainly has too much baggage after his role in the vicious series against the British and Irish Lions last summer.
None will be cheap. Not least because, assuming there are no break clauses in the fine print, the remaining 18 months of Jones’ current contract will need to be paid out.
The Rugby Union has little wiggle room even if they really want to make a change.
Covid spending has left a £120m hole in his finances. 119 jobs were cut to balance the books. The highest level of redundancy among all would hit the bottom line further.
And Jones is not going to make it easier for the RFU with his departure.
“That’s not a question I need to answer,” he said when asked about his future after the defeat in France.
“I just do my job. This is a question for other people.
“All I can say is that we know what we are doing, that we are on the right track and the team will continue to improve.”
So the Rugby Union will have to take a big gamble that it can’t afford, with a level of risk it has rarely had an appetite for before.
Sticking seems more likely than twisting.
Especially when the RFU came out on Sunday, citing the “positive steps” they saw during the Six Nations and reassuring Jones of their “full support”.
Jones and England will languish in a marriage of convenience for the time being and hope that the magic will reappear.
There are some positives to look forward to.
Maro Itoye cemented his status as a bona fide player on a world class team. Ellis Jenge has come a long way in a loose-headed game, beating Irishman Tadg Furlong in a scrum last week and lifting the ball again and again at the Stade de France.
Marcus Smith’s kicks from the arm and from the tee showed that there was more to his game than attention-grabbing jokes and darts. Joe Marchant, Jamie George and Harry Randall have made a bet on a summer tour to Australia.
By then, veteran players Owen Farrell, Manu Tuilagi and Johnny May should have recovered from their injuries to regain some of their winning habit.
But more than staff, the team needs a plan. France and Ireland, the top two teams in the tournament, have thick playbooks and templates that they can use in their sleep.
Instead, England seem to rely on the genius moment of Smith or center Henry Slade. Playing heads-up rugby is great, but against a well-organized defense, a license to handle the ball is not worth much on its own, at least in the first few phases.
When inspiration fails, England resorts to attrition, hoping to wear down the defense and, all too often, running out of steam.
Jones has already pulled England out of a significant dip in form, recovering from fifth place in the Six Nations in 2018 to find himself one (admittedly one-sided) match away from winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
After a little over six years, does he still have the tools to inspire his team and innovate tactically?
The series against his native Australia, where he won a series of blank spots on his honeymoon with England in 2016, will be a test.
We will soon find out if it exists.
The ups and downs of Jones as England manager
- November 2015: Became England manager on an original four-year deal
- March 2016: England win first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2003
- June 2016: England announces series of whitewashes against Wallabies in Australia
- March 2017: England miss out on a second consecutive Grand Slam in a loss to Ireland, meaning they also miss out on a record 19th straight win, but England still wins the Six Nations title.
- March 2018: England finished fifth in the Six Nations, their lowest place since 1983.
- November 2019: England reached their first World Cup final since 2007 thanks to a superb win over New Zealand but missed out on the trophy after losing to South Africa.
- December 2020: Despite questions about their style of play, England won the Autumn Cup of Nations, having become Six Nations champions two months earlier.
- March 2021: England finished fifth in the Six Nations for the second time in three years.
- March 2022: England finished third in the Six Nations but, as in 2021, only won two matches.