Eddie Jones: rugby union needs to speed up or 'we will end up like NFL'

Eddie Jones wants the number of replacements cut, referees to make decisions faster and television match officials to make clear and concise calls quickly to help speed up a game he feels has become too patterned and formatted.

The England head coach, who has returned to the country after spending lockdown in Japan, is concerned the space that used to open up in the final 25 minutes of a match as legs and minds grew weary is no longer a feature of the game.

“We have let fatigue go out of the game,” he says. “Apart from increasing the reserves to eight, we have had to have head-injury assessment, which has slowed the game down; we have had increased TMO involvement and more protocols; and we have encouraged referees to be debaters.

“I was watching a game on the weekend. Five minutes in, a team is defending its goalline and the referee tells the captain he will send the next transgressor to the sin-bin. He says he has to talk to his team. Why do we allow the captain to slow the game down even more?

“We have got to get fatigue back, because we need space. Otherwise we will end up like NFL. I support going down to six replacements and encouraging referees to make a decision and get on with the game. We have to find some way to tidy up the TMO. You only have to watch rugby league in Australia where it is clear and concise: one or two looks and a referee knows if a try can be awarded.”

Jones says an area he has focused on in lockdown, which he admitted he found difficult as he prefers face-to-face contact rather than video calls, was player development.

“A major area is decision-making, especially half-backs and full-back,” he said. “We are seeing too much of an emphasis placed on pattern and formation rugby, taking away from the development of 9s and 10s. You want them to be making decisions and if the balance between contest and continuity keeps on going in the right direction, which we are seeing in the early stages of Super Rugby in New Zealand, they will come to the fore.”

Jones has looked to New Zealand since arriving in England at the end of 2015, picking Piers Francis and Brad Shields. He has been linked with the Blues No 8 Hoskins Sotutu, a 21-year old born in Auckland to a father who played for Fiji and a mother who was born in England and who has stood out in Super Rugby this year.

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“He has got to want us,” says Jones. “If I am a club coach, I can want players but as a national coach it is about players who want to play for England. The rules are quite clear: come and play club rugby. He is a talented player who has pace, skill and a feel for the game. If he wanted to play club rugby here and for England, we would be thirsty, but I am not going to get up and ask him to dance.”

Jones intends to travel to watch matches when the Premiership resumes next month, following the protocols so he will be allowed into grounds, in the buildup to the resumption of the Six Nations in the autumn. England, whose remaining match is in Rome, are favourites to win the title but the lockdown has produced an element of the unknown.

“Players will come out of it differently,” he says. “Some will have improved and others declined. We will assess everyone and see where they are. Their skills may have suffered and it may take some time to find their groove, but they will get it back with hard work.”

Jones has not heard from the British & Irish Lions about whether any of his coaching staff are being considered for next year’s tour to South Africa. “If someone were asked, would they get more value going with the Lions or on a development tour, it’s England?” he ponders. “In 2017, we had a massive assignment in Argentina and Tom Curry and Joe Cokanasiga emerged. Our staff would see what was best.”


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