Schools Rugby: Does Eddie Jones even know what he’s actually talking about?

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By now most will have read Eddie Jones’ comments on English rugby and public schools, most notably that the whole thing (the system) will have to be blown up.

Up until now I have resisted the temptation to come out swinging on behalf of these institutions that have done so much for rugby in this country and the pupils that play it, partly because they have done such a good job of coming out swinging themselves, but mostly because, by this point, quotes like Eddie Jones’ are just dull now, white noise in many ways. Every year, at least, something of this nature comes out and it is growing beyond tiresome.

Admittedly though, the Head Coach of the England Men’s National Team being the one to start lobbing grenades in the direction of the schools is a new development.

Eddie Jones with Brighton College pupils in 2016, including a young Marcus Smith.
Title photo, Eddie Jones and George Ford with Marcus Smith.

For context, here are Jones’ quotes about rugby in public schools to The I from his original interview in the newspaper with Kevin Garside:

“They are good, tough players. They work hard but they only know what they know. If you have only been in a system where you get to 15, you have a bit of rugby ability and then go to Harrow. Then for two years you do nothing but play rugby, everything’s done for you. That’s the reality. You have this closeted life. When things go to crap on the field who’s going to lead because these blokes have never had experience of it? I see that as a big thing. When we are on the front foot we are the best in the world. When we are not on the front foot our ability to find a way to win, our resolve, is not as it should be.”

“It’s the way the players are educated. I’ve been here seven years now and I’ve never seen kids in a park playing touch football [rugby]. Never. Zero. In the southern hemisphere they are all doing that, developing their skills. Here you see them playing football, but never touch football. That’s the problem. It’s all formal coaching, in a formal setting, in public schools. You are going to have to blow the whole thing up at some stage, change it because you are not getting enough skilful players through.”

Eddie Jones seems to have two main points related to the actual on-field abilities of players that have gone through the independent school system; that they don’t make good leaders and they aren’t skilful enough.

On leadership, England have been led in Tests in the professional era by 28 players. Of those 16 were state educated and 12 attended a fee-paying school. Which suggests, really, that educational background does not have a lot to do with rugby leadership.

However, there is a recent bias towards state educated captains, in that Eddie Jones has named seven different captains during his tenure. Of those just 2 are privately educated, Chris Robshaw and Tom Curry. Curry was a stand in skipper at the start of the 2022 Six Nations, and Robshaw was famously stripped of the captaincy when Jones took over from Stuart Lancaster, only to then prove his worth and captain (or co-captain) England on a couple of further occasions as a stand-in.

So it does stand to reason that, misguided or not, Jones does seem to have a long-term belief in state educated players having greater leadership than others – even if the rest of us may disagree, after all in the years preceding Jones since the game went pro the split is 50/50.

As for his point on skills, it is harder to quantify and yet categorically ridiculous.

Skill development is the key coaching aim in independent schools. Seriously, to such an extent that it is almost annoying as it is all that almost any school rugby coach wants to talk about on the record; skill and player development. Has Eddie Jones not heard of Russell Earnshaw and John Fletcher, of the doctrine that they have passed down to an entire generation of school coaches?

If skills are what Jones believes England’s players are lacking, he might be better to direct his random wheel of criticism at his own employers who sacked Fletcher, Earnshaw, and Peter Walton from their roles with the England age-grade sides two years into his tenure.

Honestly, Eddie, watch even just the highlights of some of our coverage here at NextGenXV last season and tell the world that what you are seeing is not skilful, we’ve even embedded some for you below.

It seems that part of his problem is that coaches are aiding the skill development rather than teenagers themselves choosing to do it themselves by playing a bit of touch rugby in their spare time as he says they do in the Southern Hemisphere.

First of all, it might be worth Jones taking a stroll around the city in which the team he coaches plays, the parks of London are alight with Touch and Tag Rugby every single evening. Second, in Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand, various codes of rugby are the national sport – little wonder that kids there opt to play a bit of touch rugby when hanging out. Union might not be the most popular in Australia, but Rugby League lends itself to touch in just the same way. 

In the UK it is football first, second, and third, so little wonder the go to for kids is to kick a round ball around rather than chuck an oval. It seems as if Eddie is looking for a nationwide cultural change in preferred sports. I get that it’s his job to push rugby, and my goodness do I want that too, but come on, be rational.

Which takes us to the main problem with what Eddie Jones is saying, which is that he fails to recognise that rugby is just a tiny part of what the education of these young players is all about. Perhaps it’s not his job to care about the wider benefits of education, but that’s exactly why he shouldn’t be talking about it as he has. Most pupils that play rugby at school will not become professionals, most that earn scholarships to independent schools as a result of their rugby abilities will not become professionals or England internationals. It’s not even close to the main priority for the schools. The major point is to provide the best and widest ranging possible education to pupils.

One last thing on his quotes directly: “Then for two years you do nothing but play rugby” “It’s all formal coaching, in a formal setting, in public schools”. Is it possible that Eddie Jones thinks ACE Colleges are public schools? After all, ACE Colleges look after pupils for two years, with formal coaching in a formal setting, and make up a huge chunk of the academy intake each year, of professional squads, and made up 11 of the 36 players that he took to Australia this summer. That’s not a knock on the ACE Colleges, by the way, who do a brilliant job.

It does just leave me wondering, does Eddie Jones even know what he’s actually talking about when it comes to rugby education in England?

By Angus Savage


1 Comment Schools Rugby: Does Eddie Jones even know what he’s actually talking about?

  • I think it is very possible that Eddie Jones thinks ACE Colleges are public schools and that he made a genuine mistake or misreference.

    Those ACE boys are doing nothing but play rugby, and it is all formal coaching, in a formal setting, with the promise of an academy contract lined up. I dont think they are doing a brilliant job. They do an ok job.

    I would go as far as saying the ACE Colleges are guaranteed 95% of the Senior Academy intake each year. To the extent they are now stiffling other young players development.

    My son was dropped from one U16 Academy because he refused to go to their partner ACE College. And now at U18 he is being frozen out of another Academy in preference of their ACE players. The Academy system is tied up with a huge bias towards ACE players. No one else matters and will be dropped.

    This proliferates into the age grade England squads too. As the vast majority of each Academy’s EAP group are the same ACE players. A problem definitely doesexist with the system.

    Genuinely I think Eddie has made a valid point, he just aimed it at public schools rather than ACE colleges.

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