So Eddie Jones is now officially the latest savour of English rugby.
Shortly before his appointment (and when he must have known he was one of, if not THE favourite for the post) he gave an illuminating interview to ESPN about how he thought England needed to change in order to be successful. Top of his list, the central contracting of players. Without that he argued, not for the first time, England do not have enough control over their players.
“How can you manage your players when they are controlled by other organizations? Jones asked. “In my opinion, that is the single greatest task ahead of whoever is going to be appointed as the next England coach.”
Jones neatly evaded the issue at his Twickenham unveiling, but it is one that will not go away. New Zealand are the best example of how central contracting can be beneficial. If Steve Hansen wants Beauden Barrett to play at full-back because he thinks he would like to use him there, the Hurricanes will play him at full-back. The indecision over Sam Burgess’s position summed up the problem that exists here in England. Bath saw him as a flanker, England wanted him to play centre; the result-both sides and the player suffered.
Ultimately it is a question of priority. England is somewhat unique in that it has a genuinely thriving, partisan club game. France is the only other country that has a club game with a similar level of support and influence and it is surely not a coincidence that these are the two nations that wildly underachieved at the World Cup.
Many would argue that central contracts is a price worth paying, and the international game should take precedent. But there are plenty of club supporters who pay good money to watch their club play and would argue the opposite.
So herein lies the unanswerable question: how does England balance the need to encourage a thriving club game, with an international side that needs greater control over its players if it is to keep up with the likes of New Zealand, Australia and even Argentina – all of whom have it?
Within the round-ball community the steady erosion of the F.A.’s control over the game could be dated from their decision to be complicit in the formation of the Premier League in 1992. With it came the removal of an international cap as the pinnacle of a player’s ambitions.
The more astute minds at Twickenham must have watched this sorry saga unfold, and determined it would not be allowed to happen with the egg-shaped ball game.
Eddie Jones may or may not carry on with the same opinion. But there must be a few club owners twitching uncomfortably in their seats.