LONDON - England rugby chiefs declined to publicly endorse Eddie Jones on Sunday, as England’s embattled head coach was forced to defend his position after yet another Test defeat.
England’s 23-12 loss to South Africa continued their chronic slump in 2018. It was a sixth successive defeat. With Billy Vunipola ruled out of the third Test in Cape Town due to a broken arm and brother Mako returning home for personal reasons, England are in grave danger of succumbing to a 3-0 whitewash next weekend. Against this backdrop, the Rugby Football Union’s hierarchy appeared unwilling to intervene on behalf of Jones.
It is understood that the RFU does not regard the Australian’s job as being in jeopardy, despite the dismal sequence of results. But they stopped short of providing explicit assurances to that effect. Steve Brown, the RFU chief executive, was in London but was not available for comment. Andy Cosslett, the RFU chairman who was at the match, rejected requests to respond to England’s latest setback.
Instead, a brief and unconvincing statement was released on Sunday: "The RFU supports Eddie Jones and his coaching team." It was carefully worded and a long way short of a vote of confidence in a man who is under contract until 2021, on a salary said to be worth £750,000.
Jones endured another torrid post-match inquest, fending off questions about his ability to oversee an urgent revival, with 15 months to go until the World Cup. There was typical defiance as he said: "One hundred per cent, I am the man to find those answers. I can coach.
"My job is to make the team win and it is not winning. But I also have a job to do which is the process of coaching. I think I am doing that as well as I can. The results will come. It’s just like when I took over a team that couldn’t make it out of their World Cup pool. This is the job of the coach, to find a way to turn it around.’
There was one particularly uncomfortable exchange about his future. Jones was asked: "Is it time for a new coach?" He replied: "I don’t have to answer that question." When pressed, he said: "It’s not my job to answer." He was then asked if he felt under pressure: "I’m always under pressure.
"As England coach, you are always under pressure. I haven’t had too many times when I have experienced this — and it’s tough. No one likes to lose five games in a row. We have been through an exceptional period and now we’re going through this tough period. It is painful; extremely painful."
There were other signs of growing tension within the camp. Jones clashed with a BBC reporter, Ben Youngs walked out of an interview with Sky Sports - before returning later to apologise and take further questions - while Joe Marler and Mike Brown were allegedly involved in verbal exchanges with spectators. And Owen Farrell lost his composure on the pitch.
In response, Jones said of his new skipper: "He is a guy starting out in his captaincy career. He is going to make some mistakes but also do a lot of good things. He is doing an exceptional job but he is not the finished package."