Eddie Jones

Eddie Jones

14-03-2020Reuters

As winners of the Triple Crown and runners-up in the Rugby World Cup only four months ago, England must surely extend the contract of chief coach Eddie Jones to the next global contest in 2023. Yet, for some mysterious reason, the media have been expressing serious doubts about this.

Evidently he is due to have a dinner very soon with a key top official of the Rugby Football Union, who has hitherto been a strong supporter of Jones. Rightly or wrongly, the press have made this coming meeting seem very significant in terms of whether the coach’s contract is extended or not.

It is true that the RFU ticked Jones off in a strong statement this week for attacking the referee in the game against Wales, saying that England were “playing against 16 men.” That was badly misjudged comment by Jones, who might have made his complaint in private and in more temperate language. His threat of “brutality” against the French was likewise ill-judged.

What made the coach see red against last weekend’s referee was the red card given to Manu Tuilagi for a dangerous flying tackle on George North – a decision which many experienced observers, including referees and even some England players, thought was justified. My own view was that the red card can be defended, though allowance might have been made for the fact that Tuilagi had no intent to hurt North, just a desperate need to stop him scoring a try.

I thought it was ludicrous to argue, as one or two correspondents did, that the referee should have awarded Wales a penalty try because North would otherwise have scored. The playback shows clearly that this claim is nonsense, since Henry Slade had already brought the winger down some yards from the try line.

The red card, following closely on a yellow card for prop Ellis Genge, meant that England had to play the last ten minutes with 13 men, allowing Wales to score 14 points that brought the score of 33-30 too close for comfort. It failed to reflect England’s dominance in the rest of the match.

The press have also made great play of the fact that Jones said he doesn’t really enjoy coaching. But the point he was making was that enjoyment is not built into the contract of any coach leading a national side. They live on the edge all the time, knowing that one bad result can get them pilloried and even sacked.

Some rugby correspondents have caused me serious annoyance by saying that Eddie must go because he is moody at press conferences and won’t explain himself when asked questions about his allegedly “bizarre” selections. In other words, he should be sacked because he doesn’t defer to the media or give them enough good headlines.

How ludicrous and arrogant is that? A coach should be judged by his results and nothing else. His win rate as coach of 79% is beaten only by the All Blacks in the time he has been in charge.

The criticism of Jones’s selections for the Irish game - choosing Tom Curry at number eight again after a poor match in that unaccustomed position against France and playing Jonathan Joseph, a centre, on the wing - were shown to be ignorant by the players’ performances on the field. Besides, if the rugby correspondents had been more alert, they could have seen the reasons for themselves.

Likewise with the decision to play Joseph on the wing. Four of the wingers Jones had taken to the Rugby World Cup – Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell, Joe Cokanasiga and Ruaridh McConnachie – were injured. He could have given a debut to Ollie Thorley, the only other winger in the squad, but he judged, reasonably, that was too big a risk to take again such strong opponents.

Eddie Jones has now lost the finals in two Rugby World Cups - against Clive Woodward’s England in 2003 and now against South Africa. That’s why I think he will stay on. I hope so anyway.

Long live Eddie Jones, I say, and stop hounding him in the press - or we might find ourselves waving a sad goodbye to him, as we have to Prince Harry.

Covid-19: It’s like fighting the wind

A year or so ago I remember reading the review of a book that shook me to the core. The book was called “Deadliest Enemy” and it argued that the world was set to suffer a terrible pandemic for which it wasn’t prepared. The only solution the author appeared to offer was that people should wash their hands more often.

By chance, my wife received a message from a friend on Facebook the other day containing an interview in the United States with the man who wrote that book, Joe Rogan, who runs a centre that forecasts epidemics and proposes how to cope with them.

He claims that we can expect another six months of infection with up to 96 million cases globally and 80,000 deaths. Fighting it, he says, is like “trying to stop the wind.” He would halt all cruise ships as “deadly” carriers of disease.

Chillingly, he argues that when China returns to an apparent disease-free normal, with offices and factories reopening and people using public transport, the infection will start all over again.

He is against closing schools, because only 2.1% of children have so far been infected with Covid-19 and there is no evidence that they are spreaders of the disease. He points out that 38% of nurses in the US have children, so taking their kids out of school would seriously disrupt health care in hospitals. Meanwhile, my children’s school may well close tomorrow, leaving three weeks of term-time to be filled with online learning directed by the teachers. I can see my five-year-old daughter loving this and insisting that we all sit down at desks at the appointed time as she does at school.

My nine-year-old son, however, is more likely to be found (or rather not found) hiding in a cupboard or under a bed.

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