England coach Eddie Jones is under pressure from all sides
Where most will flee the eye of the storm‚ England coach Eddie Jones is more likely to raise an eyebrow.
Trust him to court controversy or impart sense to imbroglio. The garrulous Australian is certainly partial to some verbal jousting but you have to feel for him in the lead-up to the three-Test series against the Springboks starting on Saturday.
Jones is under pressure for a variety of reasons.
After a stellar start to his England coaching career — in which England won 18 consecutive Tests (17 under Jones), including successive Six Nations crowns — the English have fallen on hard times of late.
Defeats in the Six Nations to Scotland‚ France and Ireland were followed by humiliation at the hands of the Barbarians, who put 60 points on England in their most recent outing.
England’s most recent record has had some observers wondering whether the team‚ having hit the highest peaks‚ is not on the same slippery slope Jones’s previous sides found themselves on. Injuries have not helped‚ but Jones cannot use this as a crutch.
He is in a very public spat with some club owners in England, who are furious‚ accusing him of having a hand in the growing number in the Red Rose infirmary.
In his latest barb, Jones fired a broadside at Bath owner Bruce Craig calling him "the Donald Trump of rugby".
The club owners have been at pains to point out that 14 players‚ while in camp with England‚ were injured on Jones’s watch.
Beno Obano will not play for a year‚ Tom Ellis is out for nine months‚ Sam Underhill for three‚ while Wasps flank Sam Jones will never play again after suffering injury while with England. Dylan Hartley‚ Ben Te’o‚ Nick Schonert‚ Marcus Smith‚ Anthony Watson‚ Jack Nowell‚ Dave Attwood‚ Tommy Taylor‚ Jonny May and George Kruis all suffered orthopaedic upheaval serious enough for them to leave the England camp.
Having club owners nag at you‚ particularly when they can make your existence distinctly uncomfortable‚ is a matter Jones would want to address at the end of the series.
Jones can be belligerent‚ which is probably at the heart of another matter that has drawn unwanted attention to the Aussie coach‚ and England.
His decision to include New Zealander Brad Shields in his touring squad‚ with the Hurricanes captain only set to move to Wasps next season‚ has drawn wide criticism. Shields‚ who qualifies for England because his parents were born there‚ represented New Zealand at the Junior World Cup in 2011.
Jones can be abrasive‚ but he can also charm‚ as he did when he fronted the media earlier this week in Durban.
He spoke of the significance of SA’s World Cup win at Ellis Park in 1995. It is at the same venue where Jones on Saturday has to start turning opinion back into his favour.
For that‚ his team will have to do all the talking.