The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again but expecting different results and Eddie Jones’ England are guilty of repeating the same old mistakes.
On Saturday they were on the wrong side of the penalty count again, ill-discipline cost them again, they lost the gainline battle again, they were physically outmuscled again and, by all accounts, they had prepared for the second Test in exactly the same way as the first.
The third Test against South Africa this weekend is a dead rubber in terms of the outcome of the series but it is a watershed moment for Eddie Jones. He has to start making significant changes and not just in terms of his selection.
He’s held his hands up last week by writing a letter to Bath owner Bruce Craig and apologising for the comment he made about him being the Donald Trump of rugby but incidents like that one suggest he thinks he’s untouchable. He isn’t and a bit more humility wouldn’t go amiss.
Jones is backing himself into a corner in terms of his prickliness with the press but the primary question marks over him are no longer about his dealings with the media, they’re about how he can improve the team and get them back on track because they’ve gone seriously off the rails.
A team and a coach that won 24 out of 25 matches over the course of a two-year period as recently as four months ago surely has the ability to bounce back from this but defeat this weekend would be a seventh in a row, if you include the Barbarians loss, and equal the record for most consecutive defeats in England’s 147-year history so something is clearly very wrong right now.
That record-equalling run of 18 consecutive Test victories maybe did make the England camp feel bulletproof but history is repeating itself in terms of Eddie Jones’ coaching career and he needs to start taking a different approach if he wants to be successful at the 2019 World Cup.
Australia is the only job he’s had in his long coaching career where he’s hung around for longer than three years and plenty of journalists Down Under predicted when he got the England job that he’d be great for two years before the wheels would come off and that’s exactly what’s happened.
I think every team in sport is a direct reflection of their coach and leader in many ways and I hope this group of players hasn’t seen how Eddie Jones has conducted himself in the media and decided that they can just do as they please, but Ben Youngs’ interview after the game on Saturday and some of the stories of altercations with fans do hint at worrying cultural issues within the camp.
On the field, England are making the same mistakes time after time and a lot of them are down to ill-discipline so Eddie Jones has got to take a hard stance with that. Maro Itoje flung a kick at Faf de Klerk and Mako Vunipola slapped Pieter-Steph du Toit within a few seconds of each other in a couple of high-profile examples and you just can’t do that.
There are some individual errors that he can’t legislate for but he has to look at himself in terms of what he can do to start improving these players again and whether there are cultural or coaching issues that are leading to the lack of discipline.
And, it’s worth reiterating the point from last week that he needs to take responsibility for getting elements of the preparation on this tour badly wrong. Duane Vermeulen, who’s been playing in France for a few years, admitted after the match that the altitude really affected him and South Africa have been training at altitude, so it has definitely been a factor.
It’s the end of a long, hard season for these England players as well and the intensity they’re asked to train at is still remarkable, so overtraining is another issue that needs addressing.
I think he’d get a lot of respect from players, fans and media if he held his hands up and admitted that he’s made mistakes and is part of the reason that England are in the mess that they’re currently in but it doesn’t look like he’s going to.
It’ll be a long wait until November if England lose this series 3-0 and a difficult task just to rebuild the confidence levels ahead of their first two autumn internationals against South Africa and New Zealand, let alone improving the areas of England’s game that need work.
However, if England can get a win back down at sea level in Cape Town and there are a few fresh faces who come in and put their hands up for selection moving forwards, at least some of the doom and gloom will be lifted.
Billy and Mako Vunipola have gone home this week because of injury and family reasons respectively and, on top of replacing those two, I think Danny Cipriani has to be given a start ahead of George Ford who has gone missing after good starts in both of the first two Tests.
I think form players from the Premiership this season such as Dan Robson and Sam Simmonds have to be given an opportunity to show what they can do as well and I don’t think changing the whole team would be helpful but I’d make eight changes to the side to freshen things up.
My England XV to face South Africa in the 3rd Test at Newlands on Saturday
15 Elliot Daly
14 Jonny May
13 Alex Lozowski
12 Owen Farrell
11 Denny Solomona
10 Danny Cipriani
9 Dan Robson
1 Joe Marler
2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
3 Harry Williams
4 Maro Itoje
5 Joe Launchbury
6 Brad Shields
7 Tom Curry
8 Sam Simmonds
The RFU has issued the briefest of statements reaffirming that it “supports Eddie Jones and his coaching team”. In football you see those statements all the time and then the coach is sacked the next week but nobody is really calling for Eddie Jones’ head here.
I’m certainly not doing that but I do think he needs to take a close look in the mirror, be honest with himself and change a few things that he’s doing as the head coach in order to get England back on track.
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