Five words that sparked Eddie Jones' demise at England

Publish Date
Friday, 9 December 2022, 3:05PM

By Charles Richardson

“You are going to have to blow the whole thing up.”

A month ago, the English public lit its bonfires and torched its Guy Fawkes effigies but, right now, it is the words of English rugby’s very own Guido — the sacked head coach, Eddie Jones — that ring as loud as any November firework.

Those comments — “blow the whole thing up” — were uttered back in August as the Australian decided to turn his withering gaze on his latest target: the English public school system. The fallout was seismic and it served to act as a microcosm of Jones’ Marmite relationship with the Rugby Football Union.

Jones was rebuked for his remarks but it was just the latest occasion when the head coach had identified a central plank of English rugby and decided to hammer it, with the Premiership, professional rugby and the leadership that underpinned both firmly in his sights throughout his tenure.

That is not to say Jones was a rebel without a cause. English rugby is a Gordian Knot, over which the RFU’s establishment have obliviously presided, and Jones perhaps viewed himself as Alexander the Great, the pioneer brought to these shores to cut the knot and blast the myopic, dark-aged thinking of the RFU into the ether once and for all.

Yet, when you take a sledgehammer to the foundations of a sport, then it may not be a surprise when you encounter quite some resistance, with that attack on public schools the most notable of all.

“[England have] good, tough players,’ Jones told the i newspaper in that attention-grabbing interview back in August. “They work hard but they only know what they know.

“If you have only been in a system where you get to 15, you have a bit of rugby ability and then go to Harrow, then for two years you do nothing but play rugby, everything’s done for you. You have this closeted life.

“When things go to crap on the field, who’s going to lead, because these blokes have never had experience of it? I see it as a big thing.

“When we are on the front foot we are the best in the world. When we are not, our ability to find a way to win, our resolve, is not as it should be.”

If you were being kind, the point Jones was perhaps trying to make is valid: clearly more must be done to widen the selection base and do more to bring players from under-privileged and under-represented backgrounds into the sport.

But the vehicle he chose to make that statement — attacking private schools — was palpably wrong. If anything, Jones should have been lauding how valuable those institutions have been in developing generations of English talent, rather than laying into them.

But what was perhaps most striking was the gusto with which Jones, unprompted, zeroed in on his target. Not that private schools were alone in being attacked: the Premiership was also regularly under fire.

“If [players are] playing against the bottom four teams [in the Premiership] I tend to discount those games because the level of the opposition is not strong enough,” he told the Telegraph Rugby podcast last month. “Therefore, the top-four games, in my mind, are more heavily weighted in terms of selection. That’s something that maybe the media and the fans miss.

“When you’re playing against top four, and in European Cup games against sides in France, they’re the real selection games. That’s when it really starts to heat up.”

At first glance, Jones’ words could be interpreted as a lack of respect or ignorance for the top tier in England — but can you blame him? Two Premiership teams have gone bust this season and the league is flagging, hampered by dwindling crowds and a lack of appeal. Professional rugby in England does need a shake-up and Jones decided to be the one to say it.

The issue he faced was that, by the end, people seemed to have stopped listening to him. Jones could likely identify with Will Carling’s description of the RFU being run by “57 old farts” but he would have been an unlikely candidate to engender change.

It raised the question of whether Jones simple failed to understand English rugby, but the truth is perhaps the opposite: he understood it perfectly, but decided to take on the role of Guy Fawkes and attempt to blow it up. In the end it was results that did for him, but playing the role of fire-starter did not help his cause.

This article was first published on and is republished here with permission

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