Eddie Jones approved the Rugby Football Union’s attempt to structure a last-minute deal to face world champions New Zealand this autumn, only to see the plans shelved after the All Blacks chose to play the Barbarians at Twickenham instead.
The decision by the New Zealand Rugby Union to face the invitational side instead means that England will play the All Blacks just once in five years, having not faced off since their November 2014 clash at Twickenham. With the calendar not pitting them against one another until the 2018 autumn internationals, England will have played the best side in the world just once before the 2019 Rugby World Cup, despite head coach Jones’s desire to test his side against them.
“It came up in conversation,” RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie said on Friday. “I asked Eddie if he wanted to play this game if there was a possibility of doing it, even if it was difficult to arrange because there of the economic discussions with New Zealand and PRL. Eddie said yes, absolutely.
“They felt they wanted to play the Barbarians rather than have a tough tier one fixture. It's as a simple as that.”
He added: “I had discussions at the behest of Eddie, not because of any economics. The clear reason for me and the only reason for having this match was because Eddie wanted to have it. This was not driven by economics. Was it possible to stage and was it the right thing to achieve that for the fans, because Eddie wanted it and the opportunity was there. It was a New Zealand choice of whether they wanted to play us or the Barbarians.”
Ritchie also explained how the scenario came about, given that England have already scheduled games against Australia, Samoa and Argentina this autumn.
“We approved an Australia v Barbarians game in September 2016, that was the only game that we were prepared to approve in that window,” he explained. “It was clear on the calendar that there was no space to have a Barbarians game. There was no wish for the All Blacks to have a game either.
“That was the situation until an opportunity came up when there was apparently a willingness to move a previously approved game from Twickenham to Adelaide, which is what the Barbarians and Australia were discussing to do. I felt there was an opportunity to have a discussion with [NZRU chairman] Steve Tew whether or not we can play the All Blacks.”
The clamour for a game between the first and second team in the World Rugby rankings has grown since England equalled New Zealand’s 18-match winning streak, a run of games that was ended last weekend in the Six Nations defeat by Ireland, who coincidentally also ended the All Blacks’ run last October in Chicago.
With two-and-a-half years already passing since England suffered a narrow 24-21 defeat in their last encounter, fans are desperate for the two sides to meet again, with Jones previously admitting that the reigning Rugby World Cup holders are “there for the taking”.
“I'd have been failing in my responsibility if I hadn't explored the possibility of an All Blacks game bearing in mind we haven't played them since 2014 and bearing in a mind it's the game that everyone wanted to see,” Ritchie added. “And I stress there was no agreement to have another Barbarians vs All Blacks game until the board approved it on Wednesday. The New Zealand board hadn't approved it either.”