Eddie Jones hoping England can help repair rugby union’s damaged reputation

By Duncan Bech, PA
·4-min read

Eddie Jones insists England are on a mission repair the reputation of a sport reduced to a “laughing stock” by the cancellation of their Barbarians fixture.

Thirteen Barbarians players have been charged with misconduct for breaking coronavirus protocols after a group that included former England captain Chris Robshaw went out in central London on successive nights last week.

Footage of drinking games being played at the Running Horse pub in Mayfair on one of the evenings has tarnished the game, while the Rugby Football Union has lost around £1million in lost broadcast and sponsorship revenue.

Furthermore, the inevitable cancellation of the non-cap international at Twickenham has robbed England of their warm-up for Saturday’s clash with Italy in Rome, where the Guinness Six Nations title is on the line.

“We understand that rugby at the moment is a bit of a laughing stock and we all love the game,” Jones said.

“No one likes to see a game called off because of a breakdown in the protocols in society at the moment. That’s what happened.

“It’s not good for rugby, but we have got an opportunity to turn that around. It’s a weight we carry and it’s a weight that we will enjoy carrying.

“We are lucky enough to play the game at the highest level and we want to make sure we put the game back where it needs to be.

“We have a great game in rugby and we don’t like to see it portrayed as something that isn’t a serious sport, as it has been.”

Jones cites the example of cricket’s ball-tampering scandal involving Australia in 2018 as an illustration of how wounds can be healed.

“History shows that sport changes quickly,” said Jones, who has given Exeter second row Jonny Hill his Test debut against Italy.

“If you look at the situation with the Australian cricket team and the sandpaper, that was not a great time for cricket and it was not a great time for Australian cricket.

“Now people have forgotten that and it’s our responsibility to put on a performance so that people don’t remember what happened a couple of weeks ago.”

Jones insists that the frantic pursuit of points in the second of Super Saturday’s three fixtures before the Championship goes down to the wire when France host Ireland has wider significance amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s been a difficult time for society. People have lost their jobs and people have lost family members, so we feel absolutely privileged to have the opportunity to play top-level rugby,” Jones said.

“Our responsibility is to put a smile on people’s faces and we would like to make people happy for a period of time that maybe takes away some of the pain of society at the moment.

“The players have approached this camp with a zest for the game that I have never seen before, there is a real desire to do that.”

Alongside Henry Slade, uncapped lock Hill is one of two Exeter players to appear in the starting XV a week after helping the Chiefs complete the Premiership and European double.

Jones regards the 26-year-old as the natural successor to George Kruis, who is bound for Japanese club rugby.

“With George going we needed a centre of the line-out jumper, a big guy that can win you ball in the middle of the middle and also be very good at setting up mauls and disrupting mauls,” he said.

“He has had a great run for Exeter. We brought him into the England team for the 2018 South Africa tour. He was a little bit off the mark there but he has continued to develop.”

Slade has been supreme in the Chiefs’ march to glory and Jones had no hesitation in picking him at inside centre.

“My experience of coaching players who have played in big finals such as the Premiership final and the European Cup final is that they come in full of beans,” he said.

“It’s like a batsmen – you score a hundred in one game, a hundred in the next and the coach comes in and says, ‘we’re going to sit you out next game’. And he looks at you as if you’ve got two heads.”