Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney has admitted it would be no surprise to see Eddie Jones working at next year’s World Cup but is at peace with the decision to replace the Australian with Steve Borthwick.
Borthwick was confirmed as Jones’ successor at Twickenham on Monday and is tasked with rebuilding morale of the 2019 World Cup runners-up, who have struggled for results during the past 12 months.
It was England’s form in 2022, their worst in terms of results in 14 years, that saw Jones dismissed earlier than expected by the RFU after an anonymous panel of experts had reviewed the underwhelming Autumn Nations series.
Jones has made no secret of his desire to quickly return to work and has been linked with a second spell with Australia, who could meet England in the last eight of the 2023 World Cup.
“I’d be amazed if he wasn’t there (at the World Cup),” Sweeney admitted. “Does he go there (Australia) as a consultant, does he go to the US, to Japan, I don’t know.
“We are confident with Steve and Kevin (Sinfield) and whatever coaching team he puts around him. I’m sure he’ll get the best out of that England team and if that’s how it is in the quarter-final, then it will be a great day.
“We still think we’ve got time for the World Cup. We’ve got a great squad of players there. The beauty of Steve coming in is that he was here 2015 to 2020, he knows a lot of those players already.
“He knows the style of play he wants to have, so, on balance, between those two we believed it was the right decision to be made then.”
Despite Jones presiding over a sharp decline in form since England made the World Cup final three years ago, eyebrows have been raised at the decision of the RFU to dismiss the 62-year-old.
Jones’ record at World Cups had long been used as a reason to stick with a figure who polarises opinion, but Sweeney admitted they could not see results improving.
He insisted: “With a disappointing Six Nations, we then went to Australia, not an easy place to win a series, came back with a 2-1 from that and we are looking again at that parallel with 2018 thinking ‘right, the autumn is where we want to kick on and show some momentum going into 2023’, but it just didn’t happen that way.
“It just didn’t seem to be clicking. Eddie had a very clear strategy about how he wanted to play. He was talking about different styles of play, combining classic English set-piece with a more expansive role, but it just wasn’t happening.”
Sweeney rejected suggestions his relationship with Jones had become strained and insisted the players still liked the former England head coach but hinted his focus drifted too far away from the short term.
“There was absolutely no breakdown in relationship with Eddie,” Sweeney added.
“We spoke to a lot of the players. Eddie is a competitor, he’s passionate. He likes that squad and he’s got a good relationship with that squad. The players generally like him. He would have wanted to have carried on through to the World Cup in 2023.
“The results consistently were less than expected in the last 12 months. We clearly came out with the point of view that we weren’t convinced it was going to get better.
“Most conversations with Eddie tend to revolve around World Cups but I can tell you he didn’t want to perform badly in the Six Nations.
“And those three Six Nations wins and one grand slam meant a lot to him. Maybe something got lost in the narrative there. You’ve got to be competitive in the Six Nations, not just every four years at a World Cup.”
Sweeney revealed his first conversation with Leicester over hiring Borthwick occurred in August with the then-Tigers director of rugby earmarked to replace Jones after the World Cup.
With the process accelerated, the RFU chief is confident the new man in post at Twickenham can enjoy a successful 2023.
He added: “Getting Steve in, getting Kevin in, getting whatever coaching set-up Steve wants to go for, we think this is a really exciting time.
“The first thing we’re not going to do is say ‘oh and by the way, here’s a target for the 23 World Cup’.
“This is a long-term rebuild. I think we’ve got a fantastic squad of players, I think we’ll be very competitive at the World Cup, but we won’t say ‘this is what defines success’.”