Eddie Jones and England backroom feeling the heat after latest mauling

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Gary Day/AP</span>
Photograph: Gary Day/AP

You have to wonder what might happen to England the next time their opponents keep 15 men on the field. For the second match running they were outclassed, outfought and out-thought by opposition who had a player sent off. If there was a degree of mitigation against the Barbarians, this was a troubling first defeat by Australia in nine matches and the first under Eddie Jones, who now comes under intense scrutiny. Positives for England are limited to Henry Arundell’s mesmeric late cameo on his debut and the fact that Australia did not backheel any conversions.

The laws will command plenty of column inches in the coming days considering there were four cards here and plenty of controversial decisions across the weekend’s matches but the most significant of this encounter is that attributed to Murphy. For everything that could go wrong for Australia did from the moment Quade Cooper was ruled out only minutes before kick-off with a calf injury.

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The full-back Tom Banks and the tighthead Allan Alaalatoa followed with arm and head injuries respectively before Darcy Swain’s red card for a head-butt on Jonny Hill. Misfortune as extensive as that can be galvanising, for example England’s spirited display against Ireland in the Six Nations, but it should be noted that Jones’s side never looked like scoring a try when down to 14 in that match. Australia scored three after Swain’s sending off, the Barbarians six at Twickenham which raises enormous questions about Anthony Seibold, England’s defence coach, who was a surprise appointment at the start of the season considering his lack of experience in rugby union.

Martin Gleeson, the attack coach, will be feeling the heat too given that England were uninspired with the ball in hand – Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell’s partnership yet to click into gear – until Arundell came off the bench to score a wonder try and come up just short of another as he became his country’s second youngest debutant since Jonny Wilkinson.

As was the case in the only previous match that Smith and Farrell lined up together, the latter often stood in at first receiver, particularly off first phase, in an effort to give Smith the space to get the ball wide. After recalling Billy Vunipola, however, it might have been an idea to try to make a few dents first because, Tom Curry’s line-break aside, England rarely looked like scoring a try when the Wallabies had a full complement on the pitch.

It is Jones who comes under the most pressure, however, after a fourth defeat in a row and no obvious signs of the progress the Rugby Football Union insisted was evident after a Six Nations campaign that featured three defeats. Do not be fooled by the late tries, when Australia had the game won, which did little other than mean the 19-year-old Arundell has to play a bigger role in the second Test in Brisbane on Saturday. “Not quite tight enough in certain areas,” was Jones’s understated way of acknowledging improvements need to be made in most facets of the game.

Luke Cowan-Dickie of England reacts following a Wallabies try.
Luke Cowan-Dickie of England reacts following a Wallabies try. Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP

Take nothing away from Australia and when you are reduced to 14 men it helps to have Michael Hooper given it can so often look like there are more than one of him on the pitch. Noah Lolesio took his promotion to the starting lineup in his stride and Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete made the impact that Dave Rennie would have hoped for. But England really should have put their boot on Australia’s throat when Swain was sent off – they barely put their toe in the water.

One of the most concerning aspects of the defeat is how England fizzled out after going 6-0 up, unable to find any cohesion in the face of combative defence from the Wallabies. In 2016, the last time Jones brought England to Australia James Haskell spoke of how they felt they had been put in the tumble dryer as they clung on to Australia in the opening exchanges before grinding them down. Here, after a solid start to what was a turgid opening, they were squeezed through the mangle by an Australia side determined to end Jones’s winning streak against his home country.

Few players who started come out in credit – Freddie Steward and Ellis Genge are among them – but there are concerns over the form of Joe Cokanasiga and Maro Itoje, who increasingly looks exhausted after a long season after the British & Irish Lions tour, while the jury is out on the returns of Danny Care and Vunipola and Jones will have to consider a significant number of changes for Brisbane.

The RFU has backed him to the extent that it is still difficult to view his job as being on the line but eventually there will come a point when his employers have reached their threshold for reputational damage.