Eddie Jones has dismissed suggestions that rugby union in its current guise is a turn-off for new spectators as “massively alarmist and quite silly”, believing it is just part of the sport’s tactical cycles.
Jones admits that in the Autumn Nations Cup the rugby has been “tough and physical, a real game for the purists” that reminds him of the 2007 World Cup, where defence dominated attack.
He puts this trend down to the superb organisation of defences and a lack of fatigue in the game, with the ball in play too little and too many substitutes, as well as the referees’ interpretation of the breakdown – for which he has some solutions.
Jones believes it will pass – but not before the tournament ends with a final between England and an understrength France on Sunday.
“We go through cycles,” said Jones, when asked whether new fans would be put off. “The game is cyclical. We go through attack, defence cycles. And that’s the beauty of our game, it doesn’t sit still. So I think all of that sort of talk is massively alarmist and quite silly. The game evolves, changes and we see it evolve and change all the time.”
Jones says the balance at the breakdown needs fixing immediately, and has a three-point plan to do so: “It’s the tackler rolling away,” he said. "Ensuring the first arriving player in attack stays on his feet. It’s making sure the assist tackler gives a clear release, which is something that hasn’t been happening at all. What’s the opposite of zero tolerance?”
Jones believes that one issue is that referees are not singing off the same hymn sheet, because they are not getting together enough to discuss interpretations.
“I think one of the reasons why it is difficult at the moment is because referees aren't getting together and there is a lack of face to face consolation of what we expect and what we need - so therefore we are getting quite wide variants of the way that the referees are applying the laws,” he said.
“And that is not contributing to the rugby maybe a lot of people want to see, but maybe a lot of people like this rugby too? At the start of the post-lockdown in New Zealand Super Rugby, the referees went very hard at offside, very hard at the breakdown and they were roundly criticised, so it seems people want to have both sides of the cake - they don’t want the referee to referee the laws then when we get slow ball, they criticise the game. So I can’t work out what people want.
"I’ve always been an advocate of the referee being there to enforce the laws of the game and if we have a high penalty count, then so be it. The bonus of having a high penalty count is that you’re able to get quick ball.”
Jones would also like to see the game become more tiring.
“I have always said we need to make the game more fatiguing. We have too many stoppages in place,” he said. “Increasingly we are creating shorter periods of play and longer periods of rest and that does not produce any fatiguing effect in the game.
"We need that to come in to create some space. When you have got big guys, 120kg guys, if the ball is in play longer they are going to get fatigued and that means there is going to be more space.”
The Autumn Nations Cup will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video from November 13.
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