EDDIE Jones is laughing all the way to the bank, irrespective of whether the conjecture that his salary has been increased to £800,000 following his new contract extension as England head coach is accurate.
Given the current hardship faced by many clubs in England, as well as the RFU’s chief executive, Bill Sweeney, saying that the union faces a £50m black hole in lost revenue over the next year due to the coronavirus pandemic, any increase in Jones’ already astronomic £750,000 salary would be mindbogglingly crass.
It would also be poor negotiation on the part of Sweeney and Andrew Cosslett, the RFU board chairman, given that Jones will have been eager to get the deal done because of the financial uncertainty stalking not just Rugby Union, but the world at large.
What they should have reminded themselves is that there is not another union on the planet, which could – or would – pay Jones the king’s ransom he is currently banking from the RFU.
However, while the amount that Jones is being paid is definitely an issue, his track-record in pure coaching terms is not something you can argue with.
A 78 per cent win ratio – 54 Tests, 42 wins, 11 losses, one draw – is an impressive statistic, and some of the rugby that England have played going into the fifth year of Fast Eddie’s tenure has been a tonic for Red Rose fans.
The 2016 Grand Slam, the series whitewash of the Wallabies, and the 2019 World Cup knock-out stage wins over Australia, and, above all, New Zealand, will live long in the memory.
Nevertheless, as Jones always reminds himself, and his media inquisitors, you are only as good as your last result – and that was a narrow, incomplete, home win over Wales last month at the end of a campaign in which inconsistency held them back again.
Despite England being in with a chance of winning the 2020 Six Nations if/when it is completed, it is hard to square what we saw in the victories over Wales and Ireland at Twickenham, or the storm hit win at Murrayfield, or the pedestrian defeat to the French in Paris, as, “taking rugby to a different level”.
That is the mission that Jones has set himself, and his team, as they go in pursuit of World Cup winners’ medals in Paris in 2023 – rather than the dreaded runners-up version they received, and then almost immediately pocketed, in Yokohama.
One of the first player issues to arise for Jones as he and the England squad contemplate the next three years together is whether Joe Marler, who is said to be disenchanted with the game after his ten-week ban for a testicle grab on the Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones, is still part of his plans.
Jones clearly wants to keep the door open, and understandably so, given that Marler is a master craftsman, who is considered by many front row experts to be the best scrummaging loosehead, not just in England, but Europe.
The England coach said at the video Press conference that confirmed the extension of his coaching contract that he intended to meet Marler face-to-face as soon as he returns from Japan, and social distancing rules are relaxed.
Jones said that you only have to look at Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira, the 34-year-old Springbok loose-head who disrupted the England scrum so terminally in the 2019 World Cup final, to see that there is plenty of mileage left in Marler.
“Joe is still a relatively young man at 29, and he has got a lot of rugby ahead of him. You have got to have the desire to want to keep playing, and only Joe knows that. At the end of the day, he is a great player, but we want players who want to play for England, and he will make that decision.”
It was pretty clear that ‘bag-snatching’ does not feature as high in the Jones lexicon of misdemeanours as it did in the Six Nations disciplinary panel’s, when he added: “There is a lot of depth to him as a character. He has obviously made some mistakes, but he is a great team man. He is a good rugby player, and he is a good person, and I look forward to having a chat to him.”
There is an element of showman swagger, as well as arch-sledger, about Jones, which brings a vibrancy to the international rugby stage in this country which has sometimes been lacking.
However, because Jones is not only a talented coach, but an extremely competitive one, his sledging has at times been badly misjudged, as well as given too much rein.
It has made him plenty of enemies, and that is why his lofty ambitions of turning England into a team that plays “the perfect game of rugby…a great team… one of those teams when people remember how you play”, gets under the skin of every other rugby nation – and also makes more than a few Englishmen uncomfortable.
Many of them would rather be understated about their ambitions before taking the world by storm – rather than follow the Jones way of telling the world to be ready to marvel at the shock and awe you intend to unleash on them.
What Jones can be sure of is that if England win the 2023 World Cup those reservations about his brash way will vanish – and so will questions about how much the RFU have paid for his services.
The opposite will be true if his team fail in their mission to take rugby to a different level, and leave him with what he describes as “the ache I have as a coach”.
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