Eddie Jones insisted that referee James Doleman “evened up” England’s clash with Australia in Perth as a result of sending off Wallabies lock Darcy Swain.
England were dismal as they stumbled to a 30-28 defeat – a fourth successive loss and first to Australia since Jones took charge in 2015 – despite facing 14 men for a second consecutive match.
Swain was shown a red card for a 34th-minute headbutt on Jonny Hill and although the tourists were leading 6-3 at the time, they duly fell apart with the final scoreline given an undeserved sheen by late tries from Henry Arundell and Jack van Poortvliet .
While Jones clarified that he did not blame Doleman for losing the first Test at Optus Stadium, he claimed that Swain’s exit inadvertently helped Australia.
“You look at the history of the game, whenever you get a red card the referee evens it up. He helps the team with the red card,” Jones said.
“It’s social reciprocity, it happens, that’s normal and we’ve got to be good enough to handle it. That happens in every game of rugby I’ve seen. The team gets a red card and the opposition gets evened up. Because they’re nice blocks, referees.
“I’m not criticizing the referees, I’m not using it as an excuse, that’s the reality of rugby.
“I’ll say it again. I think when you play against 14 men the referee has a significant impact on the game and you’ve got to be good enough to understand what that is.
“We weren’t good enough to understand what that is and therefore we paid the price.”
A star was born as Arundell made an explosive debut off the bench, scoring a dynamic try with his first touch of the game before setting off on another run that ultimately led to Van Poortvliet’s touch down.
But the 19-year-old’s thrilling seven-minute cameo on the wing failed to mask a dismal team performance.
Australia lost influential fly-half Quade Cooper to a calf strain in the warm-up and then full-back Tom Banks and prop Allan Alaalatoa to injury inside the opening half hour, before Swain’s red card depleted their playing resources even further.
“I’m disappointed that we’ve lost. The results aren’t good enough. I accept that and that’s my responsibility,” Jones said. “We’ll work hard to turn it around. We’ve got a committed group of players, a committed coaching group.
“We started the game well. We put ourselves in a position to win the game but we just weren’t quite good enough on the day to do that.”
Apart from a maul try by Ellis Genge and England’s late flourish when the Wallabies were down to 13 men with Noah Lolesio on the bench, Australia dominated the second half.
Head coach Dave Rennie refused to be drawn on whether England had deliberately set out to target Swain on the basis of the repeated provocation he received from Hill, who at one point was even pulling his hair.
“I’m not sure if it was a team plan, but there was certainly provocation there. Not just in that situation but also earlier in the game,” Rennie said.
“We’ll have a decent look at the footage and work out how we’re going to appeal that. We’ll have a decent look at the card. We’ll be seeking clarity around it.
“We train with the scenario of playing with 14 or 13 players all the time. What we know is that we just have to work harder. We found a way. We’re absolutely rapped with the character.”