London — Former England coach Sir Clive Woodward said Saturday’s defeat by South Africa had rounded off the “worst week in English rugby history” as he launched a scathing attack on Eddie Jones and the current Red Rose boss’ employers at Twickenham.
The Springboks, in an echo of their 2019 World Cup final win over England, were too strong up front and had far more attacking guile among their backs as they won 27-13 at Twickenham.
Defeat meant England finished 2022 with five wins, six losses and a draw from 12 Tests — their worst calendar year since 2008.
To make matters worse, the Boks were not even at full strength for a match taking place outside World Rugby’s designated window for internationals.
Another lacklustre loss came just two days after Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney and fellow leading English officials were accused of presiding over “failure on an epic scale” by a UK parliamentary committee following the financial collapse of Premiership clubs Worcester and Wasps.
“This was the worst week in English rugby history,” wrote Woodward in his Mail on Sunday column. “The game in this country is a total shambles and defeat to a South Africa side without nine of its best players showed it.
“When are the leading figures at the RFU going to wake up and realise English rugby is in trouble? Everything is not okay. Eddie Jones will be allowed to carry on as he likes yet again.”
Woodward added the England team were “miles off where it needs to be”, with 11 months until next year’s World Cup in France, while the former Test centre was stung by the reaction of a capacity crowd of over 81 000 after fulltime on Saturday.
“I’ve never seen people booing at the final whistle at Twickenham before,” he said. “It really, really hurts me to see and hear that. I hate it. But at the same time, it also reflects where England are at right now.”
England’s November programme consisted of a first loss to Argentina in 14 years, followed by an emphatic win over Japan and a remarkable comeback draw with New Zealand before a decisive defeat by the Boks.
Even the RFU felt moved to acknowledge England’s plight without the same unequivocal backing it offered to Jones when the 2022 Six Nations ended in three defeats for the third time in five years.
Jones and Twickenham chiefs have long since agreed his eight-year stint as England coach will end after the 2023 World Cup.
A successor is expected to be announced in May, with former England captain Steve Borthwick and Ireland’s Ronan O’Gara, as well as highly regarded New Zealander Scott Robertson, reportedly among the contenders.
The RFU confirmed on Sunday its review panel, whose identities it refuses to disclose beyond saying they are “board and executive members along with independent, former players and coaches” will look at “how improvements can be made ahead of the Six Nations”.
But there is no suggestion Jones’ reign is about to come to a premature end, with Sweeney having been a strong supporter of the Australian, in charge of his native Wallabies when they lost the 2003 World Cup final to Woodward’s England in Sydney.
Sweeney, thanking England fans for their “patience and support”, said on Sunday: “Like them we are really disappointed with the results of the Autumn Nations Series.
“Despite strong individual performances and some great new talent coming into the team, the overall results are not where we expect them to be.”