England keeps Jones as coach until 2021, plans for his exit

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England's head coach Eddie Jones smiles during an England rugby union team training session at a school in London.

England's head coach Eddie Jones smiles during an England rugby union team training session at a school in London. (Photo: AP)

England handed Eddie Jones a two-year contract extension as coach on Wednesday while also outlining a strategy for his exit in advance of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

After guiding England to 22 wins in his 23 tests in charge, the 57-year-old Australian was rewarded for transforming the fortunes of the national team by getting a new deal through 2021.

As part of the deal, the English Rugby Football Union has planned a succession process that will likely see a new coach appointed by the end of the 2019-20 season, to work under Jones until the summer of 2021. The new coach would then lead England into the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

"It's a unique situation in world rugby to do this," Jones said at a news conference. "I have been in other teams that have been successful, and the transition to the next coach hasn't been successful. You have seen the team fall away. At my age, I can see a great situation in being able to bring a coach through."

The RFU said this "robust succession planning process" was in place in an effort to avoid "the historically disruptive pattern of resetting the coaching team and performance system every four years."

"Eddie will be a big part of this process," RFU chief executive Steve Brown said, "and wants to ensure a smooth handover to his successor."

England may look to promote from within like New Zealand has done for the past decade, potentially through Jones' assistant coaches, Steve Borthwick or Paul Gustard. Two other possible candidates are directors of rugby at English clubs — Mark McCall (Saracens) and Rob Baxter (Exeter).

Jones made it clear who would be in charge during the transition period.

"As long as I am the head coach, I have the ultimate say," he said. "It's that simple."

Until then, Jones is set to become the longest-serving England coach since Clive Woodward, who led the country in its World Cup success in 2003. England has risen from No. 8 to No. 2 in the world rankings under Jones and regarded a legitimate challenger to top-ranked New Zealand for the 2019 World Cup.

"I have been completely focused on developing a team capable of being the No. 1 rugby team in the world and winning the World Cup in 2019," Jones said. "I never take my role as England head coach for granted and did not presume I would be asked to stay on, but, once the conversations started very recently, it was not a difficult decision to make."

Jones' new contract has a performance-based break clause based on England's showing at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

"The focus completely is on winning it," Brown said. "We are very clear on what the outcome is if we don't succeed."

Jones took charge weeks after the 2015 World Cup, which England hosted and failed to get out of its group. He has improved the players' professionalism and mental approach, while being vindicated in his controversial decision to appoint Dylan Hartley as captain despite the hooker's poor disciplinary record.

"He has a 95 percent win rate at the helm," Brown said of Jones, "and has been a galvanizing force for the RFU, bringing focus, clarity and extraordinary commitment to the role."

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