HEAD COACH Eddie Jones is facing questions over his future as England’s tour to South Africa began to unravel in the Afrikaners’ heartland of Bloemfontein over the weekend.
The series was surrendered with a game to spare after Saturday’s defeat at Free State Stadium registered a fifth successive Test loss that plunges them to sixth in the global rankings.
It is understood that the Rugby Football Union have no plans to reconsider Jones’s contract in response to the results, but the Australian is under growing pressure to lead England out of an alarming slump that began with a fifth-place finish at the NatWest Six Nations.
To make matters worse Jones will be without Billy Vunipola for the third and final Test against the Springboks after the bulldozing No 8 re-fractured the arm that forced him out of action for four months earlier in the year.
The Saracens forward, who was replaced towards the end of the first half of Saturday’s loss, was due to return to London yesterday and will be further assessed this week.
Evidence that the tension is affecting both players and coach abounded at Free State Stadium where Jones turned on a broadcaster by taking exception to the line of questioning.
When asked if he can reverse the slide, Jones said: “I’m 100 per cent confident, 100 per cent as you are aggressive.
“Your nature is very aggressive, mate. That’s fine. I’m happy to answer that aggressive questioning.”
Meanwhile, it has been reported that Jones has apologised to Bruce Craig for branding the Bath owner the “Donald Trump of rugby” upon arriving in South Africa a fortnight ago.
While Jones was locking horns with his interviewer in the aftermath of the bad-tempered Test, several players also allowed their frustration to boil over.
An eyewitness heard Joe Marler swear at a Springbok fan before Mike Brown continued the verbal hostilities with supporters, while Ben Youngs walked away from an interview from a television broadcaster after giving one curt answer.
The Leicester scrum-half’s conduct was condemned by World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward and he later apologised on social media.
Billy Vunipola’s older brother Mako is also on his way home to attend the birth of his first child while Ellis Genge’s tour is over as well because of a knee problem, resulting in a call-up for Alec Hepburn.
The memory of Ellis Park a week earlier came flooding back as England raced into an early 12-0 lead through superb tries by Mike Brown and Jonny May, but they were then unable to score again as South Africa took control.
“It’s a tough period at the minute.
“No one likes to lose five games in a row,” Jones said.
“We have been through an exceptional period and now we’re going through this tough period,” he continued.
“The players and coaches are putting in plenty of effort.
“But for some reason we are just not handling key moments of the game well.
“An England side is always under pressure. Whether you’re winning or losing, you’re always under pressure.
“It’s just about sticking together, understanding what you can improve and the emotions of the situation. If we do that we will get out of it.
“We wanted to get out of it after one game. Unfortunately it has gone on a bit longer, but we’ll get out of it.”