Jones faces hard task to re­build his rep­u­ta­tion af­ter sham­bolic se­ries

Eng­land’s limp dis­play con­firms his side have gone into sharp de­cline since a stel­lar au­tumn

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Natwest Six Nations - PAUL HAY­WARD

From saviour to busted flush is a road count­less coaches have taken, and Ed­die Jones has a mon­u­men­tal task to stay off that path. In Six Na­tions terms, Eng­land are fur­ther back than when he as­sumed com­mand late in 2015. The term ‘shelf-life’ will be heard a lot around English rugby in the next few days.

‘Shelf-life’ is a form of last rites. It denotes the ten­dency of some man­agers to have a good ef­fect for a while – then a very bad one. How­ever un­fair it might be to char­ac­terise Jones as a leader with a best-be­fore date, his cred­i­bil­ity is dam­aged. We might as well tell it straight.

Eng­land were a sham­bles in this Six Na­tions Cham­pi­onship: ro­botic, in­dis­ci­plined, con­fused, and beaten three times, by Scot­land, France and fi­nally Ire­land, who com­pleted a Grand Slam at Twick­en­ham as snow fell like tick­er­tape on cham­pi­ons who were vastly su­pe­rior to the teams Jones sent out this win­ter.

The hard bit is de­cid­ing how much of it is down to the play­ers, and how much to Jones, who knows strengths are quickly rewrit­ten as weak­nesses. A driven, rest­less, or­gan­ised na­ture can be re­cast as ‘in­ten­sity’ of the sort that wears down teams. His man­age­ment style is high-risk but of­ten high­re­ward. As for the play­ers, Jones was surely right to say they need to learn how to “take re­spon­si­bil­ity”. He even said he needed “a greater depth to our squad of play­ers who can play Test rugby” – a com­plete volte face from the phase, in 2016-17, when pun­dits spoke of the al­most em­bar­rass­ing vast­ness of Eng­land’s re­sources.

For so long Eng­land’s mantra was to be the “No1 team in the world”.

In­stead they are the No5 team in Europe. As a dis­mal three-week pe­riod ended, they were the No2 side in their own sta­dium. Ire­land, not Eng­land, are the model for in­ter­na­tional rugby in Europe – in the north­ern hemi­sphere.

There is still time for this to turn­around be­fore the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Ja­pan but for now the facts are in­escapable. In Ed­in­burgh and Paris, this Eng­land team shat­tered into pieces. All that was left was for

Ire­land to ad­min­is­ter the dust­bin and brush, which they did by rac­ing to a

21-5 first-half lead, dis­play­ing greater pur­pose, shape and com­po­sure, be­fore cruis­ing home 24-15. The poverty of Eng­land’s play this win­ter has been alarm­ing. They have lacked dis­ci­pline, cre­ativ­ity and tac­ti­cal nous.

Twenty-two days ago in Ed­in­burgh they be­gan their de­scent, as Scot­land rav­aged them at the breakdown and counter-at­tacked with verve. The more ob­vi­ous those lessons at Mur­ray­field, the less tac­ti­cally ag­ile Eng­land be­came. Adap­ta­tion was be­yond them. Jones has em­pha­sised Eng­land’s prob­lems at the breakdown through­out his three weeks from hell. Eng­land’s fans, though, were en­ti­tled to ask: how about solv­ing them, adapt­ing to the ref­er­ee­ing and show­ing some game aware­ness?

Jones stuck with the Mur­ray­field plan for the trip to Paris, and the outcome was sim­i­larly dispir­it­ing. Eng­land looked like a team built in an en­gi­neer­ing shed. Af­ter an emo­tional, tur­bu­lent game, Jones’s men headed back to Twick­en­ham need­ing to halt an Ir­ish Grand Slam, with the added, off-field com­pli­ca­tion, that the coach had been filmed jok­ing about the “scummy Ir­ish” and dis­parag­ing the whole of Wales.

When re­sults are bad, these di­plo­matic gusts can as­sume hur­ri­cane force. An apol­ogy was is­sued, quickly and cleanly. Yet Jones had a much big­ger prob­lem. Chang­ing the team for the Ire­land game might not re­pair the dam­age from Ed­in­burgh and Paris, if that dam­age was col­lapsed con­fi­dence – bat­tered self-be­lief.

And that struc­tural havoc was ev­ery­where ap­par­ent as Maro Itoje tried to punch holes only to be stopped on the spot, as he has been all tour­na­ment, and An­thony Wat­son spilled a Jonny Sex­ton up-and-un­der for Garry Rin­grose to touch down. Too much has been made of Eng­land ex­tend­ing the try-scor­ing zone with anti-snow blue lines – which al­lowed Ja­cob Stock­dale to touch down Ire­land’s third (it was the same for both teams). But sym­bol­i­cally it ex­pressed Eng­land’s hap­less­ness, as did a physio with a med­i­cal bag walk­ing across Owen Far­rell’s kick­ing line while he was siz­ing up a penalty.

In foot­ball, Jones would be cling­ing to his job af­ter a run this bad, re­gard­less of the Six Na­tions ti­tles in 2016 (with a Grand Slam) and 2017, and a 3-0 se­ries win in Aus­tralia. Eng­land have not just been beaten. They have been woe­ful. The re­gres­sion has been hard to com­pre­hend.

Jones was hired to in­stil a ruth­less win­ning mind­set. For two years, un­til they ran into Ire­land in Dublin last March, Eng­land looked se­cure on that road to rein­ven­tion. This week­end, how­ever, next year’s World Cup is a rather fright­en­ing im­age.

From his ‘World No1’ ob­jec­tive, Jones is reduced to call­ing three con­sec­u­tive de­feats “nat­u­ral” for de­vel­op­ing teams. There is too much in­vested in him for the Rugby Foot­ball Union, who awarded him a new con­tract un­til 2021, to panic. But Jones will have a job to re­build his author­ity and his aura.

Un­der fire: Ed­die Jones was hired to in­stil a ruth­less, win­ning mind­set into the Eng­land team but now has a job on his hands to re­build his aura of author­ity

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