RFU statement dishonest and insulting to England fans - Andy Goode
Last year’s Six Nations debrief may have looked like it was written by England boss Eddie Jones but the latest RFU statement goes one step further – it’s dishonest and insulting to fans. It’s an absolute PR disaster and if the union in charge of the sport in England really thinks supporters are going to take them at their word and simply believe “solid progress” has been made, then they are more out of touch than anyone thought.
Whether this latest statement has come from the very top or has been written by someone in the communications and marketing department isn’t clear, but whoever thought it would be well-received really needs to be shown the door.
It’s clutching at straws but the only two steps forward I can find are that the average age of the squad has come down and players are being picked with more of an eye on Premiership form. That doesn’t constitute progress in anyone’s book, though.
Last year’s Six Nations performance was the worst ever by England and the RFU described it as “sub-optimal”. While they were spared the ignominy of finishing fifth this year, third place England finished on the same points total as last year and scored four fewer tries so this was arguably worse.
The mind boggles at how Jones can suggest his team are just “three per cent off” where they need to be to become successful and I’d love to know the metrics he is looking at when he is making that assessment.
The key part of the statement – and the honest bit – is that “the RFU continues to fully support Eddie” and that is all they had to say, preferably accompanied by an acknowledgement that this Six Nations campaign by England was unacceptable. It doesn’t matter whether individual external observers think Jones should no longer be England’s head coach. It’s the RFU’s prerogative to back him to the hilt and support him through to the next World Cup, but they should not be trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes.
It’s also very clever of Jones to always reference the World Cup and ask to be judged on that because that gives him a four-year plan and more time in a head coaching job that is reportedly the highest-paid in international rugby.
He has been consistent in that narrative ever since he was appointed and, to be fair to him, he did reach a World Cup final at the last time of asking. After that tournament, though, he was also supposed to be helping to find his successor but that seems to have been pushed down the road.
The RFU’s statement also mentions a “clear strategy” that Jones is working with. I don’t necessarily think it’s incumbent on them to tell us exactly what that is but they have to understand that it doesn’t look like there is one from the outside.
The long and short of all this is that another debrief is incoming but it is who is responsible for that and what the intended outcome is that is important. Not too much has changed since the last one and those conducting it are a bit like the Illuminati.
The RFU advisory panel, to give them their proper name, are a group of board and executive members, former players and coaches and Jones – but the head coach is the only one named. Indeed, one of the issues with this initial statement is that it comes from an RFU spokesperson. Clearly, we have to assume it has been signed off by chief executive Bill Sweeney but nobody is putting their name to it and that is indicative of a general lack of accountability.
If you look at the RFU’s board and executive members, the likes of Sue Day, Jonathan Webb and Phil de Glanville are all on there as former internationals but are there other former players and coaches involved in this review process?
We should know because Conor O’Shea is the only visible name who has been involved in the modern game at a high level. They need someone like a Lawrence Dallaglio in there who is working in the game, has the gravitas and isn’t afraid to give a forthright opinion. The RFU published a few “systemic challenges” and several recommendations on April 20 after last year’s debrief, so presumably we can look forward to something similar in the coming month or so.
When that does come out, there is one thing that needs to be at the forefront of the RFU’s minds and that is honesty. Don’t try to deceive the fans, who you want to continue to buy tickets and shirts, and look no further than the current Grand Slam champions for a shining example.
There was a huge disconnect between the national team and supporters and the club game in France a few years ago but a huge, conscious effort was made to address that. Clearly, having a winning team helps but the likes of Fabien Galthie, Raphael Ibanez and Bernard Laporte, as well as the players and others behind the scenes, have all worked in a collaborative way before this current success to build that connection.
Make no bones about it, a combination of Six Nations results on the field, Jones’ rhetoric off it, the RFU’s messaging and a few other factors are leaving a lot of England fans feeling disconnected from the national team and honesty is the first step in rectifying that.
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