Eddie Jones signed a new deal as England rugby coach through to the World Cup in 2023, saying on Thursday he was convinced to continue in the job only after seeing the team's positive response to him during the recently aborted Six Nations.
The 60-year-old Australian's contract with the Rugby Football Union was due to expire in August 2021. If he sees out his extended deal, he will become the longest-serving coach of England — surpassing Clive Woodward’s spell in charge from 1997-2004.
Jones, who took the job in late 2015 after the World Cup, effectively put himself on trial during this year's Six Nations, eager to see if his players were still responding to his methods in the wake of England's loss to South Africa in the World Cup final in Japan in November.
England was top of the standings, above France on points difference with one game left, before the Six Nations was put on hold because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“I wanted to make sure I could still have an effect on the team and still improve the team,” Jones said, "and I think I can do that.
“I felt the project isn't finished yet.”
Results-wise, Jones is the most successful coach in England's history, winning 42 of his 54 matches in charge for a victory ratio of 78%. England has won two Six Nations — including the Grand Slam in 2016 -- under Jones and had an 18-match winning run, matching New Zealand’s record for a tier-one side.
Then there was the World Cup in Japan, where Jones' team beat New Zealand in the semifinals with one of the best all-round performances by an England side before getting dominated by the Springboks in the final.
RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said his organization reached “an understanding” with Jones after he returned from the World Cup, but committed to a deal only in recent weeks.
The contract extension comes while the RFU -- and rugby in general -- reels from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Jones agreed last week to a temporary pay reduction in excess of 25%, like other RFU executives, with the sport's national governing body set to take a financial hit of 50 million pounds ($61 million) this year.
“The extension is a great honor for me,” Jones said, “but in the current environment, it is only right to acknowledge what a difficult time the world is facing.
“We are all looking forward to a time when we can get back to playing rugby and use the sport as a force for good in bringing people back together.”
Jones never thought he would sign for a second four-year stint with England but said he feels "the circumstances are right.”
“We set out four years ago to be the best team in the world and unfortunately we missed that by 80 minutes," he said. "Now we want to be the team that is remembered as being the greatest team the game has ever seen.
"It’s a big ambition but I believe we are capable of doing it.”
Sweeney said Jones, who has previously coached the national teams in Australia and Japan, “has proven why he is one of the best coaches in world rugby.”
“The progress shown by England since 2015 has been indisputable," Sweeney said, "and having fielded the youngest ever team to play in a World Cup final, we know even more growth is possible.”
With the world game on hold because of the pandemic, England's next matches are scheduled to be on its first tour of Japan in July, with tests in Oita on July 4 and in Kobe on July 11.
Sweeney said a decision on whether England can go on tour will be taken toward the end of April. With the Tokyo Olympics — scheduled to start later in July — having already been postponed until 2021, it is unlikely the tour will go ahead.
“We are in regular dialogue with World Rugby,” Sweeney said. “It’s a bit too early to say.”
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