Eddie Jones remained defiant in the wake of mounting criticism over England's performances after their defeat to South Africa, with the England head coach insisting he has a plan in place to win the Rugby World Cup next year.
Jones' worst year in charge with only five wins from 12 matches has left England going into 2023 under huge pressure to turn things around in the Six Nations ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
"I’ve got a plan for how England can win the World Cup, but it doesn’t go in a perfect line. Sometimes you need these games to make you understand the areas which need to be bolstered," Jones explained, before insisting that defeat to South Africa did not mean England's plans were disrupted.
"We’re not off track. You have days like that. I’ve had worse days than that. We felt really confident going into the game."
While Jones would not explain his issue with how the scrums were officiated by referee Angus Gardner, he stressed that he had "grave concerns" about how that area was refereed. "But that’s part of the deal isn’t it? You’ve got to live with that. I think we do need to improve in the scrum, but probably not as radically as you guys think," Jones added.
Ellis Genge, England's replacement prop, offered more insight into why the scrum calls went against England, with both of their front rows struggling.
"You’ve seen it with Sarries for years in the Prem and with Leicester when we were dominant last year. You get the 50/50s because you’re so dominant. It’s human nature. I’m not going to argue with it, I’d probably be the same," Genge explained.
"South Africa are renowned for being the best scrum so if the scrum goes down they’re probably going to get the call. We have to work twice as hard to keep it up and do our job. That’s not me taking anything away from them, they’re absolutely brilliant in that area. But are the odd 50/50s going their way? Of course they are. And rightly so because they’re so good in that area."
There are multiple problem areas for England to address, particularly their stunted attack. Yet Jones, somewhat defensively, insisted to supporters that there was enough time for England to peak for the World Cup.
“Hundred per cent. And I am sure [fans] will have doubts like you guys. I am standing in front of you and you’re telling me I don’t know how to coach, basically. Right? So that’s alright, and I am sure some of the fans feel like that. But, you know, it’s a progression to the World Cup, we have our ups and downs, today we were badly beaten at the scrum, and therefore the rest of the game becomes very difficult to judge."
How then, if at all, have England progressed this autumn? Genge pointed to the team's close bond off the field and poignantly reminded everyone that Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell, who essentially play like chalk and cheese, are still gelling.
"Off the pitch, the relationships," added Genge. "Everyone is forgetting Faz and Marcus have played about eight games together, two completely contrasting players. They’re learning the ropes with that. That’s not what people want to hear. Everyone wants wins, wins, wins. Unfortunately progress is [up and down], it never goes like that [continually upwards]. It never goes like that, in business, in sport, anywhere you go."
Those long-term ambitions should not however gloss over a desperate performance devoid of any positives from England, one billed by hooker Jamie George as "really, really poor".
Jones has not been afraid to wield the axe before and George admitted, when asked if displays like England's on Saturday made him wonder if everyone in the dressing room would be back, that games like that could lead to reassessments.
"You never know when your next game is going to be," George said. "It makes me really assess and evaluate where you are at personally. International rugby is ruthless like that. A couple of bad performances can be the end of it and that’s why you need to make sure you are at your best at all times, or at least try to be. That’s why I say you go back to your club and make sure you’re the best."