Eddie Jones’s contract with the Rugby Football Union expires in less than 18 months’ time and there is yet to be any indication on whether he will be the man to lead England through to the 2023 World Cup in France.
The 60-year-old was due to sit down with RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney for dinner at some point this week to discuss his future following the completion of the Six Nations.
But whether that will still happen given that the coronavirus outbreak has caused the championship to be suspended with no winner yet decided remains to be seen.
England had looked on course to win the Six Nations following France’s defeat to Scotland last week, although both France and Ireland still had a fair chance of winning the tournament.
They had been due to play each other on Saturday, while England were to face Italy.
Six Nations delay
When – or indeed if – the remaining matches take place, the tournament could feasibly be decided on a margin as small as points difference.
While England have resolved to put themselves in pole position to be crowned champions, the lack of certainty makes assessing Jones’s position this week challenging.
It does, of course, depend on how much emphasis both parties had placed on the Six Nations, which England have not won since 2017.
Following their run to the World Cup final last year, Sweeney, who was only appointed to the top job in May, said it made sense for the Australian to stay.
However, a month later, he backtracked following discussions with the head coach, saying there was no rush to agree a new deal.
So far the RFU has appeared more than happy to stick with Jones: scrapping a succession plan, appointing new backroom staff with regularity and publicly suggesting he would stay – before hitting rewind.
The question appears to have been whether Jones wants to continue. This is already his longest stint in one job, having previously never stayed anywhere longer than four years.
Earlier in his tenure Jones suggested he would retire following last year’s World Cup and recent remarks that he “never enjoys coaching” have cast further doubt.
RFU chiefs may have thought they had hit the jackpot when extending his deal by a further two years to 2021, but it could yet threaten to come back to bite.
Jones casts doubt
When asked if he still enjoys leading England a couple of weeks ago, he said: “I never enjoy coaching. Winning is a relief. Anyone who tells you they enjoy coaching is lying. All you do is coach hard; if you win, you feel good for 24 hours and then you’re back into it. That’s all it is.”
Jones, whose £750,000 salary makes him rugby’s highest-paid coach, is known for his quick wit and sparky personality more than for fostering amicable relationships.
That much was evident when, in the aftermath of England’s win over Wales last week, he quipped that it had been “13 against 16” – an insinuation of refereeing bias for which the RFU later felt moved to apologise.
While Jones has delivered some great results on the pitch, such antagonism does little for the reputation of the RFU or Sweeney.
Whether he has yet to ruffle enough feathers that they decide to look elsewhere for the man to lead England into 2023 remains to be seen.
Either way, there must be clarity before a planned tour of Japan in July and autumn’s internationals, or there is a risk that England leave themselves several steps behind Six Nations rivals France, Wales and Ireland in the coming years.