Donal Lenihan: Is Eddie Jones trying to goad RFU into sacking him?

Donal Lenihan: Is Eddie Jones trying to goad RFU into sacking him?
Guinness Six Nations Championship Round 2, BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh. England's head coach Eddie Jones.Credit: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.

What’s motivating Eddie Jones?

It’s hard to work out what’s eating Eddie Jones at the moment. What is he playing at?

His players certainly won’t thank him for his bizarre pre-match utterances in the build-up to their opening game in Paris which certainly played into the hands of an already fired-up French camp.

If Ireland were suffering a hangover from the World Cup, it would appear as if the disappointment of falling flat on the biggest stage of all — a World Cup final having defeated Australia and New Zealand in such a spectacular and convincing fashion at the quarter- and semi-final stage — has left a deep scar on many of the England players.

That is understandable. Despite a favourable age profile, there is no guarantee they will make that stage again.

Losing is one thing. To do so without firing a shot another altogether. There is no doubt Jones is feeling the pain too. After all, he was coach of the Wallabies side that forced England into extra time in the 2003 decider, in their own back yard in Sydney, but lost.

Jones is a stubborn man, always has been. At times that defiance has worked in his favour. We are seeing it again with his persistence in selecting outstanding openside Tom Curry at No.8 in the continued absence of Billy Vunipola. That call makes no sense. England have searched in vain for years for an out and out groundhog at open side, having compromised by playing Chris Robshaw there.

Now they have the real deal. Two in fact, with Sam Underhill’s skillset more in tune with a No. 7 than a No. 6.

With Vunipola out, the selection of Harlequins’ barn-storming No. 8 Alex Dombrandt appears the perfect fit, despite a lack of experience.

Eddie is having none of it. Even Curry’s coach, Steve Diamond, in Sale Sharks has made it absolutely clear be will not be selecting Curry at No. 8 at any stage. Jones couldn’t care less. His crass utterances about the brutality and physicality England would bring to Paris and the stirring of the “hate” that exists between England and Scotland hasn’t gone down well in the corridors of power at the RFU.

Joe Schmidt has been floated as a possible successor to Jones while the appearance of South Africa’s WorldCup-winning coach RassieErasmus at the game in Murrayfield has fuelled further speculation about Jones’s future.

I get the impression Jones wouldn’t give a damn if the RFU terminated his contract. At times I wonder as if he is goading them into doing just that. As a coach, he has nothing left to prove. His track record speaks for itself even if he tends to leave a trail of debris behind him. An easier life watching cricket back in Australia or coaching in Japan would suit Eddie just fine. The RFU will, however, have to pay for the privilege.

South Africa and the Six Nations?

Speaking of the former Munster coach, Erasmus had good cause to be in Edinburgh last weekend given that the Springboks’ first outing since winning the William Webb Ellis Cup in Yokohama will be in a home series against Scotland next summer.

Erasmus also represents the South African Rugby Union on the board of the Guinness PRO14 and, as South Africa’s director of rugby, would also have a big say on any potential migration of the Springboks from the Rugby Championship to the Six (Seven or Eight) Nations.

It’s amazing when the broadcast rights for a big tournament come up for renewal, as both the Six Nations and the Southern Hemisphere’s showcase events are at present, how the waters get muddied by other events.

It’s akin to the expression of interest from a French club, a few seasons ago, every time one of the Irish players central contract was due for renewal. Thankfully that level of posturing seems to have abated in recent times.

The prospect of SouthAfrica joining the Six Nations appears a step too far at present, but, having said that, there is no doubt South African rugby want to expand their interests in Europe with the inclusion of two more sides in the Guinness PRO14.

That’s a discussion for another day. In any event, the Six Nations insists there are no plans to admit South Africa. Ben Morel, its chief executive, said that “it has not been discussed”.

Right now the key issue for the Six Nations surrounds the expression of interest by venture capitalists CVC in acquiring 15% of the Six Nations for a whopping £300m (€350m). All six unions are salivating at the prospect of such a cash injection into to game — but at what cost?

It is very likely that if CVC come on board, they will push for the Six Nations broadcast rights to go, in some shape or form, to a pay-for-view channel, which would lead to an outcry from the public. The prospect of the Six Nations becoming the Sky Nations exclusively — no doubt BT Sport will also have a say — would become too much as the reach of the tournament would fall dramatically.

Right now the renewal of those Six Nations broadcast rights and the potential inclusion of South Africa has become a pawn in a far bigger picture as rugby in the Southern Hemisphere is in financial chaos. Australian rugby has been tethering on the brink of bankruptcy for some time. The ARU has recently lost its main TV partner.

BBC and ITV combined their resources and paid £90m for the Six Nations broadcast rights last time out to keep the show on terrestrial television. With CVC already having a 27% share in the Gallagher Premiership and on the verge of a similar investment in the Guinness PRO14, the home unions are set for a cashbonanza.

Munster’s increased purchasing power in attracting the Springbok pair of Damien DeAllende and RG Snyman must be coming from somewhere. The big question surrounds what the long term cost to the game will be.

French revolution will take time

As if he was in any doubt when accepting the gig as French defence coach, Shaun Edwards got a better understanding of the challenge ahead watching his new charges perform against Italy last Sunday.

For 20 minutes, the young French side displayed anewfound patience and composure when it came to executing their gameplan, in challenging conditions, with Storm Ciara having arrived in time to influence matters.

Defensively France replicated the increased line speed that characterised their performance in the win over England and had Edwards’ influence stamped all over it. It’s a long time since we saw the French using their aggressive defence as an attacking weapon.

Leading 13-0, despite the fact Romain Ntamack left seven points behind with a missed penalty and two conversions, the giddy French side lost concentration and started running out of their 22.

Game management still poses a challenge for this French side, not surprising given that Ntamack, at 20 years of age, is still learning his trade at out-half.

Even his club Toulouse tend not to play him there in the big games. He is lucky that club colleague Antoine Dupont, a comparative veteran in this side at 23, takes so much responsibility on himself and is such an outstanding player.

Edwards has to accept that he can’t change the culture of French rugby overnight and neither should he try. If he can marry the traditional strengths of their game, along with the greater fitness levels and athleticism of the younger breed of player coming through and get them to buy in 100% to the defensive structures and standards he is seeking to introduce, they could become an unstoppable force.

They are a long way from that at present and their visit to Cardiff next time out should prove fascinating. Edwards knows the strengths and weaknesses of the Welsh players inside out and if he can get the French to buyinto the areas he highlightsin advance, they have a chance.

With two weeks of uninterrupted preparation — in previous seasons the French players would be back with their clubs this week — France have the players to rattle Wales, even at the PrincipalityStadium. If they revert to type and carry the usual laissez-faire attitude to Cardiff, they will lose.

Either way, as the only two sides still unbeaten, there is every chance that France and Ireland will be in contention for championship honours when they meet on the final day, in the final game, at the Stade de France. Given the glimpses of renewed attacking flair both sides have displayed in the tournament to date, that promises to be a fitting climax to this season’s championship.

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