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'Belittled': Woodward fires back at Jones' 'insulting' comments

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Mark Evans/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

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Clive Woodward has yet again verbally blasted Eddie Jones, branding the current England head coach’s comments on English rugby’s private school system as divisive and disrespectful. Woodward has regularly locked horns with Jones in recent years and the reason for their latest collision is how Jones, in a recent wide-ranging interview with The i newspaper, claimed that the public schools system only builds compliant rugby players who can’t respond to adversity on the field.

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“They are good, tough players,” said Jones in the interview. “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 is done for you. That is the reality. You have this closeted life.

“It’s the way the players are educated. I have been here seven years now and I have 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.”

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Jones also disparagingly labelled the 2003 England World Cup win as a “situational success”, giving Woodward, the coach at the time, further fuel to eventually hit back in his latest Sportsmail column in the Daily Mail after he initially bit his tongue over the weekend to see if there would be an official RFU reaction to what the Australian critically had to say.

“I gave myself 24 hours before I looked to respond to Eddie Jones’ divisive and disrespectful comments on English rugby’s private school system. To be perfectly honest, in that time I expected the Rugby Football Union to come out and say something. But, as usual, we heard nothing from the head honchos at Twickenham,” bemoaned Woodward in the intro to a searing column that went on to tackle Jones’ negative opinion.

“Jones’ comments in comparison seem so misplaced. They are insulting to English rugby. At a time when the game must work together to solve incredibly important issues, to hear such a divisive stance from the England coach is astonishing. If Jones’ comments were solely concerned with growing the game and finding ways to take rugby to new schools and unearth new talent, you would support him. But that is not what he is saying… To blame England’s failure to win big games on his players’ backgrounds is a total cop-out.

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“Part of coaching is creating decision-makers and leaders yourself. That is just an important part of the job as the work you do on the field. Jones cannot blame the school system for English rugby’s struggles. There are brilliant people working in both private and state schools.

“Jones should be thanking the coaches at schools level for bringing talent like Henry Arundell through instead of criticising them. How do the teachers who have helped develop players like Maro Itoje and Arundell at Harrow School feel after Jones’ comments? They have been belittled.

“Twelve of the 23 players in the England squad for their last Test against Australia in July went to fee-paying schools. The other 11 went to state schools. The division is roughly equal. Rugby is a game for everyone and the current England side represents the country well, not only in terms of educational background but in social and racial diversity too.”

As regards the downplaying by Jones – the then Australia coach – on England winning the 2003 World Cup, Woodward retorted: “Describing 2003 as a blip does not do justice to what was a golden period of English rugby. Moreover, it is an insult to the players of that era who paved the way for future generations… The only reason 2003 can be described as a ‘situational success’ is that it is the only time the people involved got the ‘situation’ right.”

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