The RFU have convened their now customary panel that reviews each Test window. This time, though, chief executive Bill Sweeney has admitted the RFU are “really disappointed” with England’s three defeats in four November Tests.
Defiant head coach Jones insisted “I don’t really care what other people think”, but also shouldered the blame for England’s 27-13 defeat to South Africa on Saturday that closed a below-par year.
England have suffered their worst set of calendar-year results since 2008, with just five wins from 12 Tests, but Jones will, in all likelihood, press on in charge to next year’s World Cup in France.
The RFU panel is expected to remain anonymous, but includes board and executive members, as well as former players and coaches. The English union have set themselves a two-week timeline to complete the review to look at improvements in time for the Six Nations.
“We would like to thank England fans for their patience and support, it matters to us how they feel,” said chief executive Sweeney. “Like them, we are really disappointed with the results of the Autumn Nations Series. Despite strong individual performances and some great new talent coming into the team, the overall results are not where we expect them to be.”
Taskmaster Jones’s confidence in his position can be underscored by his statement that he remains unfazed by outside opinion. The Australian’s reasons for ignoring wider views are threefold: absolute faith in his coaching acumen; a relatively new feel-good factor among the players; and his ability to convince his bosses of his total suitability for the job.
Jones was a consultant on South Africa’s 2007 World Cup triumph, but beyond that he remains the only head coach to lose two World Cup finals. England toppled Jones’s Australia in 2003, while the ripple effect from the 2019 defeat by South Africa in Japan continues to impact the 62-year-old’s Twickenham tenure.
Jones’s vast coaching experience was among his unique selling points in his December 2015 appointment, in part as the polar opposite to the unseated Stuart Lancaster.
RFU chiefs are understood to remain confident in Jones’s credentials, but after six defeats and a draw in the year, the World Cup will make or break his England legacy. Only a significant upturn in physical dominance, accuracy and technique will ensure his eight-year cycle can be crowned by lifting the Webb Ellis Cup.
Ever since England were bested 32-12 by South Africa in the 2019 World Cup Final in Yokohama, Jones has been dead-set on developing diversionary tactics to negotiate the Springboks’ physical supremacy.
England, though, were just as blunt at Twickenham on Saturday as they were that day three years ago. Jones’s men appear so fixated with developing multiple attacking options at the gainline as to have sacrificed sufficient bodies in the ruck.
England now have just nine Tests to solve all these issues before the World Cup kicks off. The England squad are happy with current off-field matters, and Jones must take some credit for ever so slightly softening his approach in response to senior player feedback.
Vice-captain Ellis Genge remains convinced Jones and England can go to the World Cup in strong enough shape to contest the title.
“If we couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t stand here and talk to you now,” said Genge. “I’d hold my hands up and say, ‘we’re done for’, but we’re not. We’re very much still capable of winning.”
To witness Genge’s unrelenting eye contact and bullish body language when delivering the statement was to be buoyed by a man who also insisted in the same conversation: “I don’t fear anything, ever.”
The ever-impressive Genge alone cannot solve England’s ills. Jones and Co have plenty to fret about heading into the New Year.