Eddie Jones has called for World Rugby to convene an urgent summit of leading players, coaches and referees to discuss how to enhance international rugby union as a spectacle. Jones says he has “had enough” of the game’s increasingly stop-start nature and that top-level talks need to be convened before this autumn’s Tests in Europe.
England’s head coach, who has also cast doubt over the merit of the proposed “Nations League” concept that is poised to replace traditional tours, is concerned the essence of rugby is being lost in the welter of yellow and red cards, overzealous officiating, TMO referrals and set-piece delays that routinely interrupt the flow of the modern game.
The issues have been further highlighted in Australia by Wednesday’s classic, fast-paced State of Origin rugby league decider, which contrasted sharply with, for example, last Saturday’s New Zealand v Ireland game in Dunedin. There were so many stoppages, sanctions and arcane law interpretations that Jones and many others felt it was a worrying advertisement for the sport.
“I don’t want to see a New Zealand-Ireland game like that ever again,” said Jones. “Otherwise imagine at the next World Cup … you play a quarter-final, you get a red card and two yellows, you’re down to 12 men and it’s just ridiculous. The referees are being put under pressure here. We can’t blame them.
“I’ve been speaking to a few ex-coaches. The referees, coaches and players need to get together and say ‘This is the game we want. This is the game people want to see.’ I’m certainly going to be pushing for it because I’ve had enough.”
Jones, who has made three starting changes to his side for Saturday’s series decider against the Wallabies, is adamant the sport’s governing body needs to act fast. “We’ve got to get a better balance in the game. There’s a rhythm to how rugby is looked at and officiated and we’ve got to get in a good rhythm again. We don’t have it at the moment. Every time we get a flow in the game, there’s a stoppage.
“We’ve just gone too far down one road. There are discussions all the time and World Rugby are doing their best. But certainly before November I’m going to be agitating for something like [a summit]. Let’s get the game going.”
Jones says every coach to whom he has spoken is in agreement that a serious debate needs to happen. “Everyone goes up north in November so I’m sure we can organize something. I do know we need to get everyone on the same page and start moving towards the game we really want. We’ve got to keep the game safe, don’t get me wrong, but accidental head contact and this incessant use of the TMO … we’ve got to cut that out.”
Jones, who has preferred Danny Care as his starting scrum-half over Jack van Poortvliet because he expects a faster-paced start to Saturday’s game, has also spoken out in favor of retaining three-Test tours rather than the potential new format of one- off Tests against a range of nations. “It would be very sad,” he said.
“This series has a storyline to it and it creates interest. To lose these rugby-like tours would be disappointing for the game. The players would miss out on opportunities to be better people and better rugby players.
“Our game is different. We have to be careful about keeping the unique. It would be easy to change rugby into a mass entertainment sport, but it might not be so interesting in 10 years’ time.”
Australia have made four starting changes for the series finale, which has been described as “massive” by the Wallabies head coach, Dave Rennie. Into the back row comes Queensland’s Harry Wilson for his first appearance of the series with Nick Frost starting in the second row and James Slipper summing up at loosehead prop. Reece Hodge comes in at full-back with the winger Suliasi Vunivalu, a former Fiji international rugby league player, in line for a debut off the bench.
Jones, who, as expected, has promoted Ollie Chessum and Lewis Ludlam from the bench in place of the injured Maro Itoje and Sam Underhill, says his team “will make a statement” at the Sydney Cricket Ground and seek to play with the hard- nosed edge of a former Australia cricket captain. “That’s how we want to play, like Ian Chappell did. Walk on to the field, own it and play with plenty of purpose and plenty of energy. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”