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RFU chief takes ‘no pleasure’ in Eddie Jones’ World Cup failure with Australia

The Rugby Football Union chief executive, Bill Sweeney, has insisted he takes “no pleasure whatsoever” in Eddie Jones’s desperate plight with Australia and does not believe he should have sacked the former England head coach sooner.

Sweeney got rid of Jones last December after an autumn campaign that included defeats by Argentina and South Africa, less than 10 months before the World Cup. Steve Borthwick was hastily installed as head coach before a disastrous Six Nations campaign and equally dismal warm-up programme, only for England to reach the World Cup quarter-finals as pool winners.

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Jones, meanwhile, made a stunning return to the Wallabies job in January after the RFU failed to insert a non-compete clause in his lucrative severance package. That raised the prospect of a quarter-final showdown between Jones’s Australia and his former side but defeats by Fiji and Wales have condemned the Wallabies to a first-ever pool stage exit.

Compounding matters for Jones, it was reported on the day of the record 40-6 defeat against Wales that he had conducted an “interview” for the Japan job after the World Cup despite signing a long-term deal with Rugby Australia in January. Jones, however, brushed off the report and insisted he was committed to Australia.

Australia players look dejected after defeat to Fiji in their pool match.Australia players look dejected after defeat to Fiji in their pool match. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

“Firstly we don’t take any particular joy or enjoyment out of Australia’s current situation,” Sweeney said. “We also need to show a little bit of respect for Eddie, he was England’s longest serving coach … seven years. We had three Six Nations [wins] with him, a grand slam, he took us to a Rugby World Cup final.

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“Also a lot of the stuff that doesn’t get written up, he did an amazing job in terms of the community game. He was always at community clubs at the weekend and did a lot for kids and for coaching. So we don’t take any pleasure whatsoever at what they’re going through at the moment. Could the decision have been made earlier? It’s always a difficult one with hindsight. Life is really easy with hindsight. Would you have made the same decisions? It’s so easy looking backwards. I don’t think so is the answer.”

Sweeney has also confirmed that while Henry Arundell will be given special dispensation to represent England during next year’s Six Nations while playing for Racing 92, Jack Willis, Joe Marchant and David Ribbans will not be. Arundell will be made an exception because it is less than 12 months since London Irish went bust but as Willis has signed a contract extension since his move to Toulouse, while Marchant and Ribbans left Harlequins and Northampton for Stade Francais and Toulon respectively on their own volition, the RFU’s selection policy will continue to apply.

Sweeney is optimistic, however, that the introduction of 25 “hybrid contracts’’ will help keep England players in the Premiership. “That approach is helpful in that regard,” he said. “What we have said in working with the RPA to make England the best place to play professional rugby, not just in terms of money, player welfare plays a key role there.”

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Meanwhile, Marcus Smith, who will be hoping to return to the starting lineup for England’s quarter-final against Fiji on Sunday after the George Ford-Owen Farrell partnership failed to click against Samoa, has revealed he has been studying the Pacific Islanders at the World Cup after their historic win at Twickenham in August.

“They were very impressive and we learnt a lot from that experience,” said Smith, who revealed he has been undertaking sprint sessions with the two-time Olympic decathlon champion Daley Thompson.

“Watching them over the last few weeks I have learnt a lot as well. They have got dangerous runners, they have got power across the field, but so do we.”