Boos again on Eddie Jones’s return to Twickenham but this time directed only at Israel Folau. The former Australia wing’s selection for the World XV raised eyebrows given the controversy his anti-gay social media posts caused in 2019 and he was regularly jeered by the Twickenham crowd. He scored a try, showcasing his unquestionable talent, but suffice to say he was persona non grata in south-west London.
Jones, meanwhile, escaped unscathed on his first trip back to Twickenham. He played down the significance but it was almost six months to the day after his final England match ended in resounding boos and the axe soon followed. He never liked this fixture but after this you sense his opinion has changed. There can be no doubt that he enjoyed his triumphant return. Taking charge of the Barbarians, he flashed up on the big screen just after Seta Tamanivalu’s try had sealed an entertaining victory against Steve Hansen’s World XV. Jones was beaming, grinning from ear to ear, cream secured.
Jones didn’t like this fixture because ordinarily it pits an England XV against the Barbarians and on two of the four occasions he coached in it his side were thumped by the invitational side. He used to argue those defeats should not be counted in losing streaks and after this try‑fest went as far as to say it is dishonest to market it as an “England” fixture. Four years ago, unable to pick anyone he wanted to take with him to the World Cup, he didn’t even coach the England side.
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“I can speak as a former England coach,” Jones said. “I don’t think [they] should play the Barbarians, unless it’s a younger England team.
“At this time you can never pick the England team, so it shouldn’t be called England, it should be called England President’s XV or something like that. Playing against the Barbarians is a great idea but to try and sell it as England is not honest. It’s not honest.”
That he agreed to coach the Barbarians in this fixture while he was employed by the Rugby Football Union suggests he was only too happy that there was no England XV involved. All the more so, when his side edged out that of Hansen, scoring eight of the 14 tries in a match that provided plenty of entertainment but little intensity. “It’s just important to win,” he said. Did it bring back memories? “Just good ones mate. Seven years here. It’s the longest I’ve ever coached a team and I loved every minute of coaching here. I loved every minute of coming back.”
There was a festival atmosphere – Hansen had maintained it never mattered who won, even if Jones disagreed – and if there was some remarkable skill on show at times, you wonder if this particular fixture will be repeated. The allure of the Barbarians is whether a team thrown together for a week can upset a team who haven’t been. Pit two teams together like that and as much as Charles Piutau’s counterattacking will always be a delight to watch, or that Semi Radradra thrills every time he gets into stride, it did not quite hit the mark.
Hansen had defended picking Folau in the buildup and claimed the RFU’s decision to fly a version of the Pride flag was a positive outcome. There were several other rainbow flags on show and vociferous boos whenever the Tonga international touched the ball. He also remains a remarkable rugby player and scored a well-taken try in the right-hand corner as the World XV romped into a 28-19 lead in the first half and he also produced the most outrageous offload after setting off on a dazzling run from deep.
“We don’t necessarily have to agree with each other on our opinions but you are entitled to have one,” Hansen said. “You can’t be punished for the rest of your life for having an opinion that most of us disagree with.”
At one point it appeared that the World XV might run riot but after seizing back the lead just before half‑time the Barbarians did not relinquish it. Alun Wyn Jones played the full 80 minutes on his final international appearance, though he is set to represent the Barbarians on Wednesday against Swansea, and he even had a couple of rank conversion attempts, which suggests the end of his career, country and club, is nigh. “I’ll just enjoy this moment with these players and our families and go from there,” Jones said. “There is a lot of life left in me, whether that’s in rugby, I don’t know yet.”