TWICKENHAM (AFP) - 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 (Dec 6).
The rugby tournament 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 pre-match forecasts, England and France nevertheless produced an engrossing clash, with French 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 baseline rally at the French Open tennis championship, with fans in a crowd of 2,000 booing one such exchange after spectators were let into Twickenham for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic.
Six Nations champions England squandered a possible try just before the interval when, having decided against moving the ball wide, a series of drives by the pack inches from the French line ended with prop Ellis Genge knocking on.
Their tactics were eventually rewarded barely 30 seconds from the end of normal time when replacement forward Luke Cowan-Dickie was driven over for a try.
England captain Owen Farrell who, unusually missed four of his nine goal-kicks in the match, 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," the veteran Australian coach, who oversaw England's defeat by South Africa in last year's World Cup final, added.
"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."
'Don't win, don't coach'
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."
Rugby, according to its favourite origin story, started when William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran with it during a football match at Rugby School.
There was not much play with ball in hand from England on Sunday, however, but Jones said the same people criticising England's style would also have turned on them had they lost while playing a free-flowing game.
"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," Jones insisted.
"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."