Jones tight-lipped on England future after World Cup loss
TOKYO (AP) — Eddie Jones has unfinished business at the Rugby World Cup.
His shadow undoubtedly looms large over the sport's biggest stage, given he has been the architect of two of the most striking results in the tournament's 34-year history: Japan's 34-32 win over South Africa in 2015 and England's 19-7 victory over New Zealand in the semifinals this year.
Yet the fact remains Jones, widely hailed as one of the great strategists of this generation, still has not won rugby's top prize as a coach.
England's 32-12 loss to the Springboks in the final in Yokohama on Saturday came 16 years after his Australia team was beaten by the English in the title match in Sydney. OK, Jones was a consultant with the South Africans when they won the 2007 World Cup, but his work wasn't front and center that year, where he likes it to be.
Jones will be 63 years old at the 2023 World Cup, and it feels unthinkable he will not be at the tournament in France in some capacity.
But with which team?
The Australian is in a curious situation where he has a contract with England until 2021 — halfway through the next World Cup cycle. The idea was that Jones' could act as a mentor to the next coach in, easing the transition somewhat, but there's no sign yet as to who that might be.
Might England just give Jones an extra two years on his deal, taking him through to the World Cup? Would he even want that?
"It's not the time to discuss it now," Jones said immediately after Saturday's final. "That's for the future, but for this team there's no reason why they can't keep developing."
Pressed on the situation in a post-match news conference, he again remained tight-lipped.
"The only thing I'm worried about now is having a few beers," Jones said. "And after we have a few beers today, we'll probably have a few more beers tomorrow. And then probably Monday. And then maybe we have to pull up stumps."
Clearly his work with England is not complete. His pledge, after being hired as the country's first overseas-born rugby coach in November 2015, was to make England "the best team in the world."
In one sense, he succeeded. England was the world's No. 1-ranked team when he led it into the World Cup final but he couldn't validate that status with a win.
That will gnaw at him.
"We're the second-best team in the world," Jones said. "We didn't meet our goal, our goal was to be the best team in the world, and we're the second best-team. So that's how we should be remembered."
England has a win record of 80.61% under Jones — the best ratio of any coach in the nation's rugby history. Jack Rowell, who led England to the 1995 semifinals, has the next best at 72%.
England's XV for the final had an average age of 27 years, 60 days, making it the youngest team to start a Rugby World Cup title match in the professional era.
In one sense, Jones has the English right where he wants them: ready to attack the next World Cup. Especially with New Zealand, always the barometer in rugby, potentially set to go through a transitional phase with the departure of coach Steve Hansen and captain Kieran Read after this World Cup.
Then again, Australia is looking for a new coach after the departure of Michael Cheika. Jones is reportedly among the targets for Rugby Australia, who would have to pay big money to get its former coach out of his England contract.
Jones would also have a score to settle with the Wallabies, after he was fired by them in 2005.
It gives him plenty to ponder on the plane journey back to London on Monday.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80