It has been a long time coming but the new heads of agreement between the RFU and Premier Rugby is set to be announced by the end of this month and Eddie Jones says he is “completely satisfied” with the deal.
“I think that it’s a great relationship between the RFU and the PRL, and it sets English rugby aside as a strong domestic competition run by entrepreneurs working in connection with the national team,” the England coach said.
Just before Jones took the England job he expressed his views on the degree to which England’s fortunes were hamstrung by the clubs’ ownership of the players. “How can you manage your players when they are controlled by other organisations?” he wrote in his ESPN column in November, just after England’s ejection from their own World Cup.
“In my opinion that’s the single greatest task ahead of whoever is going to be appointed as the next England coach.”
Having spent six months of undreamed-of success in that very role he is now more phlegmatic about it. “There’s a system in place and you’ve got to work it and make sure you maximise the areas you can,” he said. “My job is to keep the clubs well informed about where their players are and what we would like to see from them.
“Domestic rugby is domestic rugby, and how the international side comes together is down to the skill of the coaching and management staff.”
Jones’s transformation of England ’s fortunes suggests he has the requisite aptitude. From the low point of World Cup defeat to Australia in October, England have won 10 consecutive Tests, one behind the current run of the world champions, New Zealand, whom they sit a place behind in the world rankings after whitewashing Australia on their own turf along the way.
Player welfare is another area much debated in recent months, all the more so with a Lions tour at the end of next season to those self-same world champions (“I’ve got no interest in the Lions tour, other than getting our players selected for it,” Jones said).
However, the Australian has only so much sympathy for the idea his leading players are being overworked. “Rugby is tough but, let’s face it, professional sportsmen are all entirely uncomfortable. It is how comfortable you can be being uncomfortable.”
It may serve as a maxim to define his method. Under the new heads of agreement England players can expect two compulsory rest weekends outside Test windows – a change from the optional rest weekends Stuart Lancaster, Jones’s predecessor, only occasionally enforced – but otherwise the details of the deal, financial aspects aside, are set to remain broadly similar.
For all the harmony, though, the agreement has been “about to be announced” since April. Lawyers and their drawn out ways are the official explanation for the delay but it would be safe to speculate that the nature of the pathway or otherwise between the Premiership and the Championship has caused its fair share of wrangling too.
The result is a continuation of the much criticised play-off system. There had been talk of a straight play-off between the top Championship club and the team who finish bottom of the Premiership; but the introduction of such an arrangement would always be unpopular – to a litigious extent – with whoever happened to have been most recently relegated.
The current play-offs within the Championship have also been intensely debated but meaningful matches are the lifeblood of any competition. A season-long procession back to the Premiership for that most recently relegated club is not much more palatable to the Championship than a sealing off of access to the top flight altogether, another suggestion that is never far away.
“The majority of the Championship clubs believe the play-off system is hugely important,” said Alistair Bow, the chairman of Bedford, “not only financially but to the sponsors, the supporters and rugby in general.
“There would need to be substantial compensation for those play-offs to disappear.”
The Championship question has thus been shelved as a conversation for another day, such is the urgency of establishing terms between the RFU and the Premiership in good time for the start of the season.
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