Eddie Jones is confident rugby will emerge from a dull period dominated by defence after conceding it is currently a sport that excites only purists.
Jones is preparing his England team for Sunday’s Autumn Nations Cup final against France at Twickenham after presiding over business-like wins against Georgia, Ireland and Wales that produced few thrills.
Disillusionment has grown over the lack of ambition that has swept through the game since a successful 2019 World Cup, with defence, set-piece and kicking dominating matches at the expense of entertainment.
Even former England captain Dylan Hartley admitted the emphasis on shutting down opponents had been “boring” and there is a perceptible frustration amongst players of all nations that it has become more profitable to play without the ball.
— Autumn Nations Cup 🏉 (@autumnnations) November 29, 2020
Jones refuses to promise fireworks when 2020 concludes with a rematch of his side’s solitary defeat this year, but insists attacks will ignite once again when the current cycle ends.
“We’d like to dominate France and how we do that will depend on what sort of game it is. We can’t control that,” Jones said.
“Just looking at rugby at the moment, it’s certainly a tough, physical game. A real game for the purists at the moment.
“It reminds me of the 2007 World Cup where defences were pretty dominant and kicking was one of the major ways to get ahead in the game.
“We go through these periods in the game. The next cycle is always an attacking one, so let’s enjoy the defensive cycle we have at the moment and look forward to the attacking cycle when it comes.
“When that happens is always dependent on the laws – when we get quick ball we’re able to play with some space and some time.
“You just look at every side in the world now, they’re so much better organised in defence.
“Everyone’s getting off the line hard and time and space are at a premium. Unless we are able to get quick ball it’s very difficult to play with any fluency.”
The Autumn Nations Cup final has been devalued by an agreement between France and the Top 14 clubs over player access that means head coach Fabien Galthie is missing 25 front-line internationals.
The entire starting XV that sent England spinning to a 24-17 defeat in February is unavailable, including the likes of Antoine Dupont, Virimi Vakatawa and Gregory Alldritt.
It turns the final into a hollow occasion, but for Jones it is another opportunity to distance his recently crowned Six Nations champions from last autumn’s World Cup final defeat by South Africa.
“We’re looking forward to the game, we’re so excited about it. We’ve worked hard for nine weeks to get to this position,” Jones said.
“We can’t control what the opposition puts out there, we’re not even worrying about it. You know whatever side France puts out is going to be competitive.
“They’re going to be tough, they’ve won the last two Under-20 World Cups so they have plenty of good players. We’re not concerned about this one iota – it’s out of our control.
“All we can do is play to our best. We’re worried about our performance and how we can improve that.
🗣️ "We’re so excited about the game. We’ve worked hard for nine weeks to get to this position." 💬
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) December 1, 2020
“In a championship, the final week is always the greatest learning week. You learn a lot about yourselves, about your team-mates, about how you operate as a team.
“We’ve had one unsuccessful final in the last 13 months, so we’ve learned from that and we’d like to put our learnings into practise this week.
“I’d like to congratulate the organisers of the tournament. They’ve done a fantastic job to put it on in such difficult circumstances.
“It’s quite a feat and it’s been good, competitive rugby. We’re pleased to be in the final but there’s one game to go.”