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Winning isn't everything - but neither is the Rugby World Cup

By Tom Vinicombe
Eddie Jones and Ian Foster. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

After a tumultuous run of results throughout the international season, Eddie Jones’ tenure as head coach of England has come to an end.


Losses to Scotland, Ireland and France throughout the Six Nations left many uneasy but an away series win against an underperforming Wallabies side in July quietened some of the discourse. There was little to like about November, however, with a solitary win over Japan sandwiched between defeats to Argentina and South Africa and a draw with New Zealand.

Jones, however, has always made the case that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

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While England haven’t been winning matches, success at the 2023 World Cup has always been the end goal for Jones.

“I’m disappointed – disappointed for the fans, for the players,” Jones said following the Six Nations. “I obviously haven’t done a good enough job, I accept that, but we’re moving in the right direction. The results aren’t good enough. When you rebuild a team, it takes time.

“We have got a lot of good young players coming through and some of the older guys are starting to play some really good rugby again, so we are going to have a good blend going through to the World Cup.

“The results aren’t the results we’d like – we’d all like to be winning tournaments and be at the top of the table, but we’re not quite good enough to do that now. But within the next 12 to 14 months when we prepare for the World Cup, we will be. We’ve got 12 Tests before the World Cup and if you look at that, it means guys like Freddie and Marcus and Harry are going to increase their Test experience by 100 per cent in that period.


“There is a great learning experience for them. I think the timing for our team going into the World Cup is very good.”

Jones has trotted out a similar line over the past four years – ever since he took England to the final at the last edition of the flagship tournament – and the powers that be have stuck by him. November proved too much for the RFU, however, and while they’ve never been too disheartened at England’s unsavoury record over the past two campaigns, believing in Jones’ vision, they’ve evidently decided that things aren’t simply going to come right at France 2023.

Now one of the most successful World Cup coaches in the history of the game could be without a team at next year’s competition.



Across the ocean, another premier side has faced a similarly troubling era.

Ian Foster took charge of New Zealand following the 2019 World Cup and results have been less than impressive, to say the least.

Although the All Blacks have bagged back-to-back-to-back Rugby Championship titles (or a Tri-Nations in 2020 when South Africa weren’t involved), you suspect that they would not have faired any better than England in the Six Nations, with Ireland and France clearly the two best sides in the world at present.

Historic home losses to Ireland and Argentina throughout Foster’s tenure have also blighted the All Blacks’ name while the win rate over the past three years has been down there with some of the worst in any coach’s history with the NZ national side.

Justin Marshall summed it up well at the end of the 2021 season:

“The way the All Blacks are playing, there are probably very few people out there that are convinced they can win the World Cup but even if they do manage to pull a rabbit out of a hat, the aura of the All Blacks is being seriously damaged by their current performances.

“Until last weekend, the All Blacks hadn’t lost in Paris for half a century. Until last year, Argentina had never beaten the All Blacks. The records will keep tumbling if the current side can’t turn things around and even a World Cup win won’t reverse historic defeats.

“The All Blacks have never been a side that slowly builds towards major competitions, we’ve never been a team that targets World Cups and says ‘We’re learning, we’ll get there’. The pathway to the World Cup is equally as important as the World Cup itself and right now, the current results just aren’t good enough.”

The records did keep tumbling in 2022 and while Foster has effectively stuck to the same mantra as Jones – that the team is building towards the Rugby World Cup and things will ‘come right’ in time for the tournament opener in Paris – NZ and England shouldn’t be comfortable with peaking at the World Cup while taking losses in the years in-between.

Even ignoring the record subsidence that’s gone on over the past few years for both nations, there’s not been much in the way of evidence to suggest that either team really is building for the World Cup.


New Zealand’s patchy 2021 was followed up by a patchy 2022 and while there were a few good wins throughout this year’s campaign, the point remains that the All Blacks don’t look any closer to being able to account for Ireland, France or South Africa (consistently, at least) after struggling against the likes of Argentina, Australia and Scotland.

In England’s case, Jones has often talked about how the side is rebuilding ahead of 2023 but in last month’s World Cup final rematch between England and the Springboks, it was Jones’ men who more closely resembled their team from three years prior.

While the South Africa side that hoisted the Rugby World Cup in 2019 will obviously go down as world champions, they won’t be remembered as one of the best of all time because of their performances in the years surrounding the tournament – and England and New Zealand now find themselves in the same boat.

The primary focus on the World Cup – ostensibly at the cost of all else – has resulted in Eddie Jones losing his post with England and All Blacks coach Ian Foster almost found himself in a similar predicament. For the top nations in the world, it should be evident that head coaches can’t hang your flag on ‘simply’ leading a team to success at the World Cup – they have to offer something more. Jones hasn’t done that and now he’s paid the price.


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