Coaches shouldn’t be able to get away with casting aspersions on referees and Eddie Jones should face sanctions for his comments about Ben O’Keeffe.
Criticising a decision is one thing but suggesting it was “16 against 13” as he did in the aftermath of England’s 33-30 victory over Wales at Twickenham on Saturday is stepping over the line and it shouldn’t be tolerated.
It is possible to comment on incidents and suggest that you disagree with them but you have to do that in the right manner and preferably make it constructive as well so everyone can learn and improve as a result. Eddie’s comments were far from constructive.
In terms of the specific decision he was talking about, I think he may be one of just a few people on the planet who think Manu Tuilagi shouldn’t have been sent off.
However, he described the decision as “bizarre” and questioned what Tuilagi could have done differently.
“I do not see how you tackle the guy. This bit about where the arms are, what a load of rubbish,” he said.
It was a cast iron red card as mitigation isn’t taken into account if there isn’t a genuine attempt to make a legal tackle and in this case Tuilagi led with the shoulder to the head and didn’t have his arms anywhere near a position to wrap.
As a head coach he should understand the law regarding that but his comments in the media, which are heard and read by millions, are far more worrying.
The England coach has a responsibility to help their players operate within the laws and adjust to the current climate which is rightly focused on attempting to avoid contact with the head.
Perhaps more importantly, though, they also have a responsibility to be sending the right message to fans.
World Rugby are doing their best to reduce the risk of concussion and head injuries in the sport and coaches should be supporting that rather than saying things that fly in the face of it.
Eddie has the biggest voice in international coaching at present, with Steve Hansen, Warren Gatland, Joe Schmidt and Michael Cheika all having gone after the World Cup, and it doesn’t set a good example to other coaches when he makes comments like this.
Being a referee is a tough job and not many of us would want to do it so the last thing they need is to be getting unfair and unnecessary flak from the most high-profile coach in the game.
O’Keeffe has spoken in the past about how he has received abuse online and has had to learn how to deal with it. He shouldn’t have to and coaches making comments like Eddie’s aren’t going to help the situation.
To be fair to Jones, he doesn’t normally comment on individual refereeing decisions but he’s gone from one extreme to the other with this comment and I think it sets a bad precedent if the powers that be just turn a blind eye.
The Six Nations or World Rugby could take action but I would also expect the RFU to take a dim view of it and, as chief executive, Bill Sweeney should be having a word with Eddie and reminding him of his responsibilities.
The pair are due to meet up to discuss a potential new contract among other things. I think most people feel that he will be given an extension to take England through to the next World Cup but it’s possible to reward him with a new deal and also remind him how the England coach is expected to conduct themselves.
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