LONDON • England coach Eddie Jones said critics of their style were being “disrespectful” to his players, after they needed extra time to beat a third-string France 22-19 in the Autumn Nations Cup final at Twickenham on Sunday.
The rugby tournament, cobbled together amid the coronavirus pandemic, was dominated by set-piece forward play, aggressive defence and tactical kicking, leading some pundits to fear for the future of rugby union.
Despite the dire forecasts, England and France nevertheless produced an engrossing clash, with full-back Brice Dulin scoring a fine try, as the visitors, boasting just 68 caps in their starting XV, established a 13-6 lead at half-time.
However, there were moments when the teams’ kicking duel resembled a prolonged French Open baseline rally, with the crowd of 2,000 booing one such exchange after spectators were let in for the first time in nine months.
Luke Cowan-Dickie was eventually driven over for a try, while England captain Owen Farrell who, unusually missed four of his nine goal kicks, tied the score at 19-19 with the ensuing conversion before landing a match-winning penalty in sudden-death extra time.
Jones, however, had no qualms about the result and responded angrily when questioned by reporters about the manner of a victory that saw England avenge their only defeat this year, a 24-17 loss to France in Paris in February.
“Can I just say I think you are being totally disrespectful to the players the way you criticise the rugby,” he said.
“It’s a tough time for the sport, it’s a tough time to play rugby and we are all trying to play as good a rugby as we can.
“Consider the players are coming off at least a 10-month season without having any pre-season to prepare for the international game. It is a sport we love and it is a difficult game to play.”
Asked if teams had a responsibility to entertain, as well as win, Jones snapped: “That is not the point and I find the question a bit childish. Obviously, you have to win. If we don’t win, we don’t coach.
“Had we run the ball from everywhere and got turned over 30 times and been beaten 30-15, you’d have said why didn’t we kick the ball more.
“These are the best players in the world and you’re telling me they’re playing that game because they don’t want to play good rugby? Be respectful to the players.
“We’re trying to win games of rugby… The easiest way at times is to kick the ball, other times it is to run the ball. We’re always looking to get the right balance.”