PA Eddie Jones (file pic).

Eddie Jones wants England to restore rugby's image after Barbarians 'laughing stock'

They could be crowned Six Nations champions with a big win over perennial strugglers Italy.

ENGLAND COACH Eddie Jones has urged his players to revive rugby union’s reputation when they bid for the Six Nations Championship title away to Italy following the “laughing stock” of last week’s cancelled match against the Barbarians.

Jones’s losing World Cup finalists could be crowned champions with a big win over perennial strugglers Italy in Rome and if the result of a match between title rivals France and Ireland later on Saturday’s coronavirus-delayed final round of the tournament goes their way.

England, without a match for months, had hoped to prepare by playing the invitational Barbarians side at Twickenham last Sunday.

But that fixture was dramatically scrapped when it emerged several BaaBaas players, including former England captain Chris Robshaw, had breached Covid-19 protocols by making unauthorised trips, including a restaurant meal, outside the ‘bubble’ at the squad’s London hotel.

Jones initially appeared relax about the abandonment, urging rugby fans not to be too harsh on flanker Robshaw, a “good young man” who has “served his country well”.

But Jones, speaking just hours before the RFU charged 13 unnamed Barbarians players on Thursday with “prejudicial” conduct, took a far less conciliatory tone.

“Rugby at the moment is a bit of a laughing stock and we all love the game,” the veteran Australian coach told a conference call.

“We have a great game in rugby and we don’t like to see it be portrayed as something that is not a serious sport, as it has been.” 

Jones, who has previously coached the Barbarians, as well as his native Australia and Japan, added: “No-one likes to see a game called off because of a breakdown in the protocols in society at the moment. That’s what happened.”

- ‘Batsman’ Slade -

Nevertheless, he cited how the Australian cricket team had recovered from the shame of a 2018 ball-tampering scandal in South Africa as proof of how a sporting reputation could be restored.

“History shows that sport changes quickly,” Jones said. “If you look at the situation with the Australian cricket team and the sandpaper, that time was not a great time for cricket and it was not a great time for Australian cricket. 

“Now people have forgotten that and it is our responsibility to put on a performance so that people don’t remember what happened from a couple of weeks ago.”

Jones, a lifelong cricket fan, stuck with the summer game when explaining why he had no qualms about deploying Henry Slade in his starting XV, with the Exeter centre aiming for his third trophy in as many weeks after helping the double-winning Chiefs win gruelling European and English Premiership finals.

“It’s like a batsmen, you score a hundred in one game, a hundred in the next and the coach comes in and says, ‘we’re going to sit you out next game’,” Jones explained.

“And he looks at you as if you’ve got two heads. Why would you want to be left out when you’re in good form?…He (Slade) wants to play, he loves playing for England.”

© – AFP, 2020

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