Eddie Jones rejects concerns that rugby’s current emphasis on defence is alienating prospective new fans as alarmist even though he accepts only purists will have enjoyed the Autumn Nations Cup.
England face a France team weakened by the unavailability of their best players in the tournament final at Twickenham on Sunday when it will be hoped that attacks finally ignite.
Workmanlike wins against Georgia, Ireland and Wales have established a seven-match winning run, but they have been founded on defence, set-piece and kicking, mirroring a wider trend in the game.
Disillusionment has grown over the lack of ambition, leading to fears that audiences will look elsewhere for entertainment. Jones, however, believes the sport will soon emerge from the doldrums.
“We go through cycles. The game is cyclical. We go through attack and defence cycles. And that’s the beauty of our game – it doesn’t sit still,” he said.
“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. I don’t agree with those comments.
“Just looking at rugby at the moment, it’s certainly a tough, physical game. A real game for the purists at the moment.
“It reminds me of the 2007 World Cup where defences were pretty dominant and kicking was one of the major ways to get ahead in the game.
“We go through these periods in the game. The next cycle is always an attacking one so let’s enjoy the defensive cycle we have at the moment and look forward to the attacking cycle when it comes.
“When that happens is always dependent on the laws – when we get quick ball we’re able to play with some space and some time.
“You just look at every side in the world now, they’re so much better organised in defence.
“Everyone’s getting off the line hard and time and space are at a premium. Unless we are able to get quick ball it’s very difficult to play with any fluency.”
A number of suggestions to inspire attack have been suggested, including reducing the points awarded for penalties and short-range tries, but for Jones the solution is to speed up the game.
“I have always said we need to make the game more fatiguing. We have too many stoppages in place,” he said.
“We have got Steve Price, the Warrington Wolves coach, in camp. He was talking about how in Super League their ball in play is 68 minutes, which is twice what it is in Test match rugby.
“Our ball-in-play time has been affected by the fact that the out-of-play time has increased because of HIAs, because of scrum setting, because of TMOs.
“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.
🗣️ "We’re so excited about the game. We’ve worked hard for nine weeks to get to this position." 💬
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) December 1, 2020
“When you have got big guys – 120kg guys – if the ball in play is longer they are going to get fatigued and that means there’s going to be more space. That’s one way of getting a better balance in the game.”
Jones insists there is a lack of consistency from referees, but this is a result of the limitations caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“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,” he said.
“Therefore we are getting quite wide variants of the way that the referees are applying the laws. And that is not contributing to the rugby maybe a lot of people want to see.”