Eddie Jones has risked the wrath of English rugby union traditionalists by claiming that that the country will need to “blow up” its public school system to consistently produce skilful players.
In a wide-ranging and exclusive interview with the i newspaper, the England head coach also suggested that these establishments encouraged a “closeted life” and could be blamed for English lacking “resolve” and struggling to confront difficult scenarios on the pitch.
Speaking on the back of a 2-1 series win over Australia, Jones reiterated his belief that English players tend to suffer from psychological shortcomings in the heat of battle because they can be strangers to adversity prior to their emergence at elite level.
“They are good, tough players,” Jones said of those that have developed in England, where it is the norm for professional players to have attended public school, at least for sixth form.
“They work hard but they only know what they know. If you have only been in a system where you get to 15, you have a bit of rugby ability and then go to Harrow. Then for two years you do nothing but play rugby, everything’s done for you. That’s the reality. You have this closeted life.
“When things go to crap on the field, who's going to lead because these blokes have never had experience of it? I see that as a big thing. When we are on the front foot we are the best in the world. When we are not on the front foot our ability to find a way to win, our resolve, is not as it should be.”
Jones labelled Owen Farrell as “a warrior” and “by far our best 12”, indicating that the 30-year-old’s “unbelievable competitive spirit” had been forged independent of these structures.
With Jones due to leave his role as England head coach at the end of the 2023 World Cup in France, Rugby Football Union officials are pondering a succession plan. Andy Farrell, the father of Owen, will not be in the frame after signing a contract to stay in his current role as Ireland head coach until 2025.
Jones also told the i that England’s 2003 triumph under Clive Woodward, which saw his own Australia side beaten in the final on home turf, was a “situational success” that has had “nothing to follow”. For that to change, Jones believes, the sport must become more prevalent in wider society with handling and passing skills prioritised.
“It’s the way the players are educated,” he added. “I’ve been here seven years now and I’ve never seen kids in a park playing touch football [rugby]. Never. Zero. In the southern hemisphere they are all doing that, developing their skills. Here you see them playing football, but never touch football. That’s the problem.
“It’s all formal coaching, in a formal setting, in public schools. You are going to have to blow the whole thing up at some stage, change it because you are not getting enough skilful players through.”