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By Nick Cain
HERE’S a prediction. If Eddie Jones does not win the 2019 World Cup, or at the very least go out in a blaze of glory attempting to do so, he will not take up the two-year extension to his England contract heralded by the RFU this week.
As far as we understand it there is a break clause in the extension he has signed from 2019 to 2021, which gives Jones the option not to continue. I believe that if England underperform in Japan he will invoke it and step aside rather than engage in a two-year hand-over to his successor.
That would mean another about-turn by ‘Fast Eddie’. Instead of marching back to Brighton beach with his bucket and spade he would jet off to the Caribbean, put his feet up and watch some Test cricket.
He has been telling us that is his preferred option for the last two years, and that there was “no way” he would change his mind. However, a pot of RFU gold seems to have done the trick.
Not long ago Jones had a playful jab at the rugby media saying words to the effect that “if you guys can change your minds just like that, so can I.”
Fair enough. At the moment Jones is massively in credit, and English rugby should thank its lucky stars not just for the way he has put the high-performance bar back on the uppermost rungs, but because potentially it has a succession plan in place.
If Jones feels he can come back from the 2019 World Cup with his head held high the two-year extension will be the first England coaching succession blueprint in living memory put in place as part of a coherent strategy.
England coaching hand-overs have generally been an almighty botch, accompanied in 1987, 1995, 1999, 2011 and 2015 by World Cup head-plants. The fact that Jones already has a good enough record, with 22 wins in 23 Tests in charge, to still just about be in credit if he lost every international between now and the 2019 World Cup, says everything about the esteem in which he is held by the RFU board, and the architect of the extension, chief executive Steven Brown.
Although the acid test of Jones’ability to steer England to a second World Cup title in Japan starts this season, what he has achieved so far in resurrecting England has been exceptional.
I have misgivings about aspects of Jones’ selection policy, but so far he has been as surefooted as a squirrel on a high wire when it comes to delivering results. Two Six Nations titles, one of them a Grand Slam, and a three-Test whitewash of Australia Down Under, are testimony to his expertise and experience.
In the process he has taken England from eighth in the world rankings to second, and chasing New Zealand hard. Jones has also promoted the game, and with his quick wit and strong opinions, Press conferences are invariably lively – and his quote-a-minute routine brings him the added bonus of taking the pressure off his players thanks to the buffer zone it creates.
The pay-off for the protection is that he is a very hard task master who has showed his squad what a work ethic really means, and it has been a significant part in England’s revival after 13 years in the doldrums. There have been fitness gains and signs that he is an expert when it comes to motivation and getting his tactics across to his team.
However, as he concedes himself, there is a dearth of on-field leaders in the English game – and the danger stemming from that is that this Red Rose team could become too dependent on being steered by Jones rather than being adaptable on the pitch and making the right tactical calls unprompted.
As for the RFU succession plan, Jones brings the great advantage of knowing the candidates in the top tier of coaching inside out, mainly because he has coached with them during his stints with Australia, South Africa, Japan, Queensland and Saracens, or against them – or has been responsible for giving them a severe case of burn-out.
Allied to his recently acquired knowledge of the English game that makes him an invaluable asset in the search for a successor. It also makes the RFU administration as dependent on his expertise as the England squad.
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