RFU boss 'massively disappointed' by England's Six Nation campaign but backs coach Eddie Jones

Bill Sweeney, the RFU’s Chief Executive

England Rugby’s head coach Eddie Jones is not untouchable, and his role is under review after a second consecutive lacklustre Six Nations campaign, the Rugby Football Union (RFU)’s chief executive has said. Bill Sweeney admitted England’s recent results have been “massively disappointing”. He added that the head coach would need to defend the team’s progress to a panel, who will then recommend whether he is the right man to lead England at next year’s World Cup in France. Sweeney believes Jones is, but says the Australian is not bulletproof and he will make a tough call if ever he concludes a change is needed.

Sweeney insists Jones' position is 'always under scrutiny'

“His job is always under scrutiny. And we have a review after every tournament, and it'll be a deeper dive after a tournament because you get into a range of other issues," Sweeney said.

"At the end of all those sessions you make a judgement Are we on track? Do we have confidence? Or do we not? And if you have confidence you continue, if you don't have confidence, you make tough decisions.”

But, in reality, isn’t it too late to make a change so close to a World Cup? “It hasn't really come up in the thought process, we haven't said right there's a deadline here beyond which you can't make a decision, that we're 18 months out from a World Cup now. It's a bit hypothetical because we believe that we are heading in the right direction.” After defeat to grand slam-winning France last weekend, much to the anger of fans, the RFU released a statement saying the team was making “solid progress”. That assessment after only two wins and a third-place finish led to many respected rugby figures labelling the RFU as “dishonest.” Sweeney admitted: “We possibly got the tone wrong. And if we did, if we created confusion, then we need to think about that. It wasn't intended to mislead the fans in any way. The fans are a very intelligent bunch of sports fans. I mean, they understand their rugby. It would be extremely hard to mislead them." However, he does not accept that the Six Nations is a low priority for England; neither does he agree that it means more to fans than it does to the players. But what of the view that to head coach Jones, the tournament is a glorified World Cup training camp? “I would totally refute that. He has massive respect for the Six Nations as a competition. He calls it the best competition in the world," Sweeney said.

"He holds up his grand slam in winning the Six Nations as one of his greatest achievements. There's absolutely no disrespect for the Six Nations as a competition.”

Sweeney responds to accusation RFU mislead fans by saying England is making 'solid progress'

Armed with a sharp tongue, Eddie Jones can be a polarising figure. Recently he suggested Britain’s new tennis superstar Emma Radacanu risked progress because of the distraction of her outside interests. Yet Jones has many of his own deals in addition to his RFU contract - does that not mean his eye is not always on the ball?

Not according to Sweeney. “There hasn't been one single occasion where I felt a commercial contract, an existing relationship... conflict with what we're doing. He works extremely hard. He is accessible 24/7, 365 days a year," Sweeney said. There is also a widely held belief that Jones is both untouchable and unaccountable. “Absolutely not... If he's making a controversial decision on selection, we'll know about it in advance and that will be discussed. As I say he presents into the RFU board. They can challenge him if they choose at any point that they'd like to do," he said.

And for those fans who think a change of direction is needed and the RFU is sleepwalking towards more disappointment, Sweeney said: "We're not delusional by any means. We want to win a World Cup. We believe that we're heading in the right path to do that. There's no heads in the sand. We've got to make sure we fix it.”