Continuity the key to continued success for England
In a sporting landscape where the news of a coach losing their job often appears as common as a kick off, word of one being rewarded with a contract extension certainly commands attention.
If anyone around the rugby globe deserved acknowledgment of their own endeavour and that of their team it was England head coach Eddie Jones who has put pen to paper on an improved contract that now runs to 2021.
His side boast an incredible 95% win ratio with 22 victories in 23 games and he has overseen their resurgence from the relative depths of eighth in the world rankings to genuine rivals to the standard-setting All Blacks.
Jones was expected to bow out after the 2019 Rugby World Cup having sown and hopefully reaped the seeds of success and nurtured the next generation of English coaches but he will now stay for a further two years.
Well, that’s the plan
Jones will be well aware the length of his contract will be meaningless if his side fail to deliver on the pitch and an embarrassing showing on the sport’s biggest stage will prompt a swift exit, just as it did for his predecessor Stuart Lancaster.
You may remember that Lancaster too was rewarded with a new contract when one year out from the 2015 Rugby World Cup and under the terms of that deal he was due to guide England through to 2020.
Jones has a break clause in his contract extension dependent on England’s performance in Japan where you suspect that anything worse than a semi-final appearance will be deemed a failure.
“I never take my role as England head coach for granted and did not presume I would be asked to stay on, but, once the conversations started very recently, it was not a difficult decision to make,” said Jones following the announcement.
In effect, this is an additional performance bonus for Jones and ensures a more significant severance package should the team’s fortunes take a turn for the worse and his services are no longer required.
Jones is reportedly the highest paid rugby coach in the world with a salary in the region of £500,000 a year and while his new contract extends his stay with England, in truth, there isn’t another union or club that could offer a similar kind of financial package to lure him away.
The most intriguing element of the new deal is the proposed succession plan that will see the appointment of a new head coach during the 2019-20 season who will work under Jones before taking sole charge ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Jones has previously stated his intention to educate and nurture the next generation of England coaches with the hope one would emerge as a likely successor.
This appeared to put former England captain and current forwards coach Steve Borthwick in line for a future promotion especially given his history with Jones that includes spells working together at Saracens and with Japan.
Jones has been very clear about his hopes for Borthwick, who continued his professional development with the British & Irish Lions in New Zealand last year.
“We want him to be the best coach England has ever produced and at some stage in his career be the head coach for England,” Jones said this time last year. “That’s the plan we have got in place and we are working very hard at that.”
However, the RFU appeared to have other ideas when newly-appointed chief executive Steve Brown hinted a few months ago that they would once again opt for proven quality.
“We want the best person for the job,” said Brown following his arrival in the post in September. “There is a standard that has been set there that shows what we need next time around.”
That statement, perhaps predictable from a new CEO determined to make an impact, suggested an internal appointment was unlikely.
It also appeared to dash the hopes of leading English club coaches like Exeter Chiefs’ Rob Baxter who has long been considered a candidate for the top job.
But now union and coach appear to be on the same page with the joint commitment to a succession plan that it is hoped will end the need for what the RFU themselves called the ‘historically disruptive pattern of resetting the coaching team’.
That policy may be a nod to the All Blacks who have shown how continuity in terms of coaching can lay the foundation for long-term success.
Current boss Steve Hansen was promoted from within following the departure of Graham Henry and that move helped ensure a seamless transition from one World Cup win to another.
Assistant coach Ian Foster is now poised in the wings and set to continue the pattern and hopefully the run of success post 2019.
Arguably key to that success was also the decision not to shake things up and to re-appoint Henry following their quarter-final exit at the 2007 World Cup.
Brown’s hope of appointing someone of Jones’ calibre to the role now appears less likely as there is little chance that a coach of his stature will work ‘under’ the Australian in any circumstance.
It is much more likely that any such coach would have their own ideas but perhaps the All Blacks again provide a pointer with former head coach Wayne Smith having later accepted and thrived as an assistant to Henry and Hansen.
As previously stated, the fortunes of the team will ultimately decide whether he stays the course of his contract and a run of victories may prove just as costly as a series of defeats.
The prospect of Jones taking charge of the British & Irish Lions for their tour of South Africa in 2021 appears a real possibility given England’s success and the RFU’s apparent willingness to entertain an approach for their coach.
Should he be offered and accept the role it would mean almost inevitably that he would have to step away from his England role in the final year of his contract to begin preparations.
Jones will no doubt find it hard to resist the opportunity to test himself and add to an already extensive CV and maybe a similar desire to challenge your coaching credentials in a new environment – specifically international – is the key to any English coach being deemed ready for the role.
Former England skills coach Rory Teague is one of those bolstering his experience with Bordeaux-Begles in France where he works alongside another rising star in former England international Joe Worsley.
Alex King is another to have sampled life in France and he also has international experience following a spell with Wales last year while former England assistant coach Mike Catt is furthering his coaching career with Italy.
It may be up to the likes of other hopefuls like Baxter to show how much they really want the job and illustrate how far they are willing to go to prove it.