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The 'chat' the RFU had after England boss Jones used 'poison' word

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

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RFU CEO Bill Sweeney has revisited the damaging fallout that took place in March 2021 after England boss Eddie Jones lost his composure at a media briefing and accused the press of spreading poison about his players in the lead-up to the Six Nations loss versus Ireland. That depressing defeat in Dublin consigned the English to an embarrassing fifth-place finish in the tournament

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It sparked an in-depth review of the campaign by the RFU amid calls that Jones should lose his job due to the collapse in his team’s form. The Australian, though, rode out the storm and has since got England back on an upwards trajectory, the team winning all five of its Test matches since then – including eye-catching victories in the two most recent outings versus the Springboks and the Wallabies.  

Jones is now formulating his plans for the 2022 Six Nations and is due to announce his England squad for the tournament on Tuesday, January 18. Given the high hopes that will accompany them heading into that campaign, it was perhaps timely that RFU CEO Sweeney recently reflected on how it all unravelled for Jones and co in the 2021 tournament, culminating in the stinging criticism of the Australian for his ‘poison’ narrative in and around the round five Ireland match. 

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Jones said at the time: “The wrong time (is when) you start to listen to the poison that is written in the media and that rat poison gets into players’ heads and we try to keep it out of their head. We try to spray all that rat poison that you try to put in and get it out of their head, so we are always working hard to get it out of their head. It keeps me busy, mate.”

Speaking in a lengthy interview in the latest edition of the Rugby Journal magazine, Sweeney sifted through the rhythm of that last Six Nations campaign for England and revealed how he had to give Jones a serious talking to following the backlash of his headline-generating poison remarks.  

“We knew it was going to be a tough Six Nations,” said Sweeney in the magazine. “We were particularly hit by Covid leading up to it. You don’t really talk about it too much because it comes across as an excuse and every team has to deal with it, but we did have a significant Covid issue in the camp. Eddie himself got isolated, Jason Ryles was stuck in Australia, we were very disrupted and we knew we were undercooked for that Scotland game.

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“Then (after Italy) we had that weird Welsh game when we had those two decisions early on and it felt it was just not going to be but you pull it back and then three players come off the bench, three penalties, nine points down. You have chased the game, intercepted pass, game is gone.

“And then we played France. I remember talking to Eddie and saying, ‘Can we win this one?’ He said, ‘Yeah, no questions. We’re guaranteed we will this one’. So then, we played pretty well and had a bit of luck (and won), we’re going for a walk down the river and he’s saying, ‘I’ve got to keep the players focused, I don’t want them getting too carried away by what they read in the media about performance’.

“He said, ‘You have got to keep growing and focusing because if they listen to some of that poison it will be difficult to make that work’. I said to him, ‘Just be careful what you say on that’. Sometimes a word sticks out and, of course, pre-Ireland media conference he talked about poison and the media. We lost the game and we did get a bit of a backlash, so I did have a chat with him about that one.”

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