The England head coach has plenty of 'distractions' of his own


Opinion: Eddie Jones’s Emma Raducanu critique hypocritical

“The big thing for young players is distractions. Distractions can be the exposure they get in the media, the praise and criticism they get, groups of agents who see this guy as the next big thing.

“There’s a reason why the girl who won the US Open (Emma Raducanu) hasn’t done so well afterwards. What have you seen her on? The front page of Vogue, the front page of Harper’s Bazaar, whatever it is, wearing Christian Dior clothes.

“He (Marcus Smith) is grounded, but they all start off grounded. No one starts with their feet off the ground or they don’t get in the team, or they don’t win a US Open. But there’s this flood of distractions that comes in that makes you ungrounded.”

This is what Eddie Jones had to say when asked about Marcus Smith following England’s 69-3 win over Tonga in their opening match of the autumn series. There is much to pick apart here.

Firstly, Raducanu’s record since her incredible Grand Slam triumph in New York is won two, lost two, and she has climbed into the world’s top 20 – hardly a slump in form.

The Vogue shoot, which was not a cover story, actually took place before the US Open while commercial deals are part and parcel of professional sport, athletes often generating more income from those than prize money/club contracts. Roger Federer, for example, has deals with the likes of Rolex, Moet & Chandon and Uniqlo – and he’s won 20 Grand Slams.

Secondly, why is Smith being singled out when it comes to ‘distractions’? Plenty of players in the England squad have individual commercial partners. Owen Farrell works with Land Rover and Castore; Maro Itoje has done shoots for clothing brands Ralph Lauren and M&S (and appeared on the cover of Tatler); Tom Curry is an ambassador for Bremont watches – and that is just three examples.

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Thirdly, rugby needs to embrace players who have wider appeal, can reach new audiences and raise the sport’s profile. Whether it’s Itoje starring in Vitality TV adverts, Ugo Monye appearing on Strictly Come Dancing or Thom Evans photographed for the cover of Attitude magazine it all helps to increase interest in and awareness of rugby.

Related: Does rugby need superstar names to challenge global market?

Rugby’s current business model is not sustainable and having star names who can attract more people to the sport, whether that involves attending matches, signing up to TV subscription services or buying merchandise, is crucial. Too often rugby can shy away from promoting its biggest assets.

Finally, and most pertinently, Eddie Jones’s Emma Raducanu critique is hypocritical. Why aren’t players allowed ‘distractions’ when the coach has plenty?

Jones has commercial deals of his own. He is an Umbro ambassador for one, has worked with Mitsubishi, Japanese bank Nomura and Roku gin, and also did a promotional video for Sapporo in the lead-up to Rugby World Cup 2019.

He has consultancy roles with Suntory Sungoliath and San Diego Legion too, and he is releasing a second book, Leadership – Lessons From My Life in Rugby, at the end of this month. Have all these extracurricular activities diverted him from his England coaching job?

Of course, all this talk of distractions could be to, well, distract us from this week’s England selection and whether Smith will get a start at fly-half against Australia…

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