Bill Sweeney has assured England supporters that next month’s review into their underwhelming Six Nations campaign and the future of Eddie Jones is far from a cosmetic exercise, because the performances left him struggling to sleep at night.
Sweeney, the Rugby Football Union’s chief executive, will be part of a panel looking at why England slumped from first to fifth in the table, suffering their first home defeat to Scotland for 38 years and conceding a record number of points to Wales before disappearing in Dublin.
“There is no reason for us to sweep things under the carpet,” said Sweeney. “We want to get better and better. We want to win the World Cup and retain it. We want to win grand slams. Look how it feels when we don’t. It is miserable. You don’t sleep as well. It affects all sorts of things. We want to get to the nub of it to make sure that we can be as successful as we possibly can be.”
Neither the size of the panel nor its members, some of whom will come from outside the RFU, will be made public. Sweeney said that while its makeup would be secret, partly because some of those involved wanted it that way, its conclusions and how it reached them would be made public.
“There is no intention not to be transparent,” he said. “We will do a full and honest debrief and present those findings to the media. At this level of sport, performance is everything. The difference with business is that sport is immediate: you can go from one week to the next and ask whether a problem is fixable or a trend. If you have worries, you act.”
Although England have won the championship three times since Jones was appointed head coach after the 2015 World Cup failure and reached the final in 2019, there have been widespread calls for the Australian to be sacked. The RFU will not be bounced into making a decision, mindful that it was only four months ago that the Welsh Rugby Union was being advised to send Wayne Pivac on his way.
“There are few games at international level so you have less time to make assessments,” said Sweeney. “If fine margins determine the result of a match, you have to be able to decide if coming out on the wrong end was down to bad luck or another reason. We have succession plans in place and have depth charts on English coaches and the level they are at, but it would be premature to talk about them now.”
Lost in England’s tame capitulation in Dublin last weekend was that it came one week after they beat France with their best performance since the World Cup semi-final victory over New Zealand. The manner of their defeat by Ireland was the effect of the pandemic that left Jones and the forwards coach, Matt Proudfoot, isolating in the buildup to the tournament and confined the skills coach, Jason Ryles, to Australia. Changes could only be made to the 28-strong squad because of injury to protect its Covid bubble.
“This is something you have to do without emotion,” said the RFU’s director of performance rugby, Conor O’Shea. “You cannot overreact and you have to look at everything in context. When people talk about transition, be careful what you wish for: when people say some of our players should be got rid of, look at Alun Wyn Jones and Johnny Sexton, who are both 35. Then there is the calendar and a pathway from club level where we can see how players adapt out of their comfort zone.”
Another issue for Sweeney is the TV contract for next year’s Six Nations and autumn series, which is out to tender. With the private equity company CVC on board, pay-TV companies have been approached but the unions are concerned about losing audiences that this year have nudged nine million.
“We want to have our cake and eat it,” said Sweeney. “It is about the balance between awareness and the commercial aspects. We would prefer a hybrid model, but it will be a while before anything is decided.”