England have tested fans’ patience but heading in right direction – RFU chief Bill Sweeney
The boss of the Rugby Football Union admits England have “tested the patience of fans” in recent months but are “heading in the right direction”.
Eddie Jones’ men lost three times in the Six Nations but recovered from 1-0 down to beat Australia 2-1.
RFU chief Bill Sweeney says the series win showed England are “on track” before the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
“We are not blind to the last two Six Nations, they have both been disappointing and we know that.”
Sweeney added to BBC Sport: “We have a very loyal but demanding set of fans, so have we been testing the patience of the England fans? Yes we probably have been.
“Behind the scenes, in looking at the performances and looking at the direction we are going in, we felt we were going in the right direction.
“If you look at how some of these players are performing, and the players that weren’t involved who are waiting to come in, we believe we are on track.
“We are going to have to improve a lot when you look at some of the sides out there at the moment, but I do believe we are heading in the right direction.”
The series victory against the Wallabies eased the pressure on Jones, who was involved in two different confrontations with home fans during and after the decider at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Jones reacted angrily to being called a “traitor” by goading Australians, with Rugby Australia denouncing the conduct of those supporters involved.
“Any England against Australia head-to-head generates a lot of tension and some people get a bit too carried away with it, maybe alcohol-fuelled or not, I don’t know,” Sweeney added.
“Eddie is a proud Australian but he is also head coach of the England team. Was he going to be a lightning rod for certain comments? Maybe.
“But I think Rugby Australia handled it really well, they came in right away and sorted it out, no messing around. I think we’ve drawn a line under that.
“He was under intense pressure going to Australia and he reacted to it. Sometimes with hindsight you think ‘OK I could have handled it differently’, but I think that particular individual had been niggling away for quite a while. We have drawn it to a close now.”
The hunt for Jones’ successor
While Jones will take England through to the World Cup in France, the hunt is on to find his successor, with a phalanx of high-calibre candidates emerging as potential replacements.
Leicester’s Premiership-winning coach Steve Borthwick is one of the leading contenders, while the likes of Ireland boss Andy Farrell and France coach Shaun Edwards are also on the RFU’s shortlist, although they would definitely be unavailable until the end of 2023 because of their international commitments.
Sweeney says it remains “optimal” for the next England head coach to join Jones’ coaching staff next summer before the World Cup, but this will depend on contractual situations.
“In some cases that might not be possible, so we will just have to wait and see,” Sweeney added.
“It depends on the individual and the scenario. If it was possible, that is the optimal solution, but it might not be possible.
“We have our preferred options, but sometimes you are not able to do that. We are comfortable it is progressing in the right way.”