Fran Cotton urges RFU to hold Eddie Jones to account and reintroduces ‘Club England’

English rugby heavyweight Fran Cotton insists the Rugby Football Union should overhaul Eddie Jones’ reporting structure, arguing greater rugby expertise is needed to hold the head coach to account.

Jones reports directly to Bill Sweeney, the Rugby Football Union chief executive, who has given the Australian his full backing despite back-to-back Six Nations campaigns in which England have won just two matches. The impression that Sweeney does not have full control of Jones has been reinforced by his decision di lui to allow the coach to jet off to Japan to coach players at Suntory Sungoliath such as star Australia center Samu Kerevi, who is likely to face England this summer .

When England won the World Cup in 2003, Cotton was chair of the Club England, a subgroup of the RFU management board, which coach Clive Woodward reported into rather than the chief executive. Unlike the anonymous panel who are in the process of reviewing another underwhelming Six Nations Championship, Club England was composed of contemporary big hitters such as Bill Beaumont and Simon Halliday who would forcefully challenge Woodward on his decisions on and off the field.

This system was disbanded by former chief executive Francis Baron, who ensured Woodward’s successor, Andy Robinson, reported directly to him in 2004. Cotton, the former England captain and three-time Lions tourist, believes that was a costly mistake that is still holding England back nearly two decades later. “The reason the system exists is because individuals wanted control, not what is the best structure to consistently deliver performance for the England team,” Cotton told Telegraph Sport. “Club England ended purely and simply because the chief executive wanted control. He thought the finance director reported to him why shouldn’t the England team manager report to him? The one easy answer to that is he wasn’t qualified to deal with the England coach. He didn’t have the credentials. That hasn’t changed. What does Bill Sweeney really know about elite rugby? Look at the Professional Game Board, look at people that are running the professional game. It is a joke.

“The benefits of the Club England system were that you had a group of people there who were very knowledgeable about elite rugby. It was Club England that introduced the academy system and insisted the RFU sent an England team to the Under-20s World Cup. Why on earth they don’t publish the names of the people who are on this (current) panel is beyond me. Why can’t we know who they are? Fellow executives on that team are never going to criticize a fellow executive. You need independent people who know what they are talking about and aren’t afraid to ask the difficult questions. “

Many other countries have a buffer between the chief executive and the head coach. Ireland head coach Andy Farrell reports to David Nucifora as performance director while New Zealand have hired Joe Schmidt as independent selector for the All Blacks. Echoing Baron’s argument, Sweeney believes there is no reason to change the current reporting structure.

“We think it works fine,” Sweeney said. “Obviously, I have a finance director who reports into me, and I’m not a qualified accountant. I have a head of legal and governance that reports to me, and I’m not a lawyer. Now, am I going to have a deep debate with Eddie about whether you should pick for (Freddie) Steward or whether you should pick Marcus (Smith)? No, can I challenge him on things, particularly when results go in the wrong direction? Yes I can. “

Meanwhile, Premiership coaches have indicated that Jones would be able to hold training sessions at their clubs, within certain parameters. One of Jones’ prime arguments for going to Japan is so that he can get hands-on coaching practice. “If you are a golfer, you play golf and if you are a coach, you coach,” Jones said last year.

Yet Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter says he would be open to Jones coming to Sandy Park if he wished to. “Any of these things are theoretically possible, the challenge would be doing it without harming your match preparation,” Baxter said. “For us potentially, it would be a discussion about what he was looking to coach, to talk about, and almost certainly it would have to be a session early in the week, a Monday, we could put over part of a Monday to a development process, and not necessarily a game-focused process. Or there could be a non-23 group later in the week who aren’t as focused on the game. “

Alex Sanderson, the Sale director of rugby, shared similar sentiments. “It is always feasible but it depends on the content of the session,” Sanderson said. “If Eddie were to ask to take a session, we would ask is it right? What would it give to the team? And what’s his process and methodology of going about it? It is not as simple as giving someone a whistle and letting them take a session. “

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