Maro Itoje insists that England’s players, not coach Eddie Jones, have to be held responsible for their dismal Six Nations performance.
Jones is fighting for his Twickenham future after a 32-18 defeat by Ireland on Saturday condemned last year’s champions to fifth place, equalling their previous worst finish of 2018, which also came on the Australian’s watch.
A week after edging France 23-20 to hint that a revival was under way, they were overrun as familiar failings resurfaced at the Aviva Stadium, most notably their self-destructive indiscipline.
A defiant Jones believes he remains the right man to lead the World Cup finalists into the 2023 edition and, according to Itoje, he retains the support of his players.
“Eddie is a fantastic coach. He’s one of the best coaches I’ve worked with. His work rate, his knowledge, his feeling with the players, the way he goes about his business are genuinely second to none,” Itoje said.
“As players, we need to be accountable for our behaviours. At the end of the day, Eddie can’t play the game for us.
“The players need to be accountable and if you ask any player who has been under Eddie, I doubt anyone will say differently. He’s a truly special coach.
“As players we need to grab hold of it and take ownership of our actions. We’re disappointed because we know that as a team we’re capable of so much more.
“It’s just on us. I don’t have any excuses here, we just weren’t good enough. We’re a team that can do so much more, but we didn’t show that.”
Losses to Scotland, Wales and Ireland have completed the ‘reverse triple crown’ for the first time since 1976 to end the prospect of England supplying the bulk of the Lions squad for this summer’s series against South Africa.
Unless the Rugby Football Union choose to act, Jones must wait until the autumn to gather together his full senior squad with the July tour – if it happens – to be used as an opportunity for development.
“It will make us stronger and more robust, but at the moment we have to be accountable for our performances,” said Itoje.
“In terms of what I believe this team can do and what this team can achieve, nothing has changed. I truly believe that we’ve got something here.
“We’re not displaying the best of the team at the moment, but I genuinely believe we’ve got one of the best coaches in the world.
“I do believe we are going somewhere but we have to recover and take our medicine from this Six Nations.”