James Haskell defends Eddie Jones against ‘cancel mob’ for Emma Raducanu remarks
England rugby coach Eddie Jones has been pilloried for suggesting prospect Marcus Smith should avoid looking to tennis star Emma Raducanu for inspiration, but he has at least one friend in former flanker James Haskell.
Smith, 22, came off the bench to score a try in England's 69-3 demolition of Tonga at Twickenham on Saturday, strengthening calls for the Harlequins fly-half to start for his country.
In an effort to keep the breakout star grounded, 61-year-old Jones suggested teenager Raducanu has failed to do so herself since winning the U.S. Open earlier this year.
"There's a reason why the girl who won the U.S. Open [Raducanu] hasn't done so well afterwards," he said. "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 [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 U.S. Open. But there's this flood of distractions that comes in that makes you ungrounded."
Those remarks led to suggestions of prejudice against women who juggle their athletic careers alongside the celebrity spotlight, with tennis commentator David Law calling the comments "uninformed, irresponsible, sexist nonsense."
Raducanu—who turns 19 on Saturday (Nov. 13)—won the U.S. Open less than two months after reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon, since which she's won twice and lost twice on the WTA Tour.
But Haskell has leapt to the defence of his former boss and insisted there was at least no sexist element to Jones' judgement in response to Law's tweets.
“Honestly, how you think this is sexist is beyond me," the former Wasps and Northampton Saints back-rower retorted.
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“It’s a point about distraction and the pitfalls of fame, that can happen to anyone.
“I can see you desperately want to insight (sic) the cancel mob, but you are going to need to do better than that."
Haskell earned 15 of his 77 England caps playing under Jones and was called up as injury cover for the 2017 British and Irish Lions of tour of New Zealand.
The 36-year-old doubled down on his suggestion that gender played no part in Jones' comparison: “Where is the sexism? You are just saying it to insight (sic) a riot.
“You and I both know you said that so everyone would jump in.
“She is the most relevant example of a current athlete. Gender is not relevant. It’s OK to say you overreacted because you felt passionate.”
Jones' former disciple appears to be in a minority among his sporting peers, however, after former British No. 1 Jo Durie said: “No-one ever complains about blokes going to galas – it’s always something that is thrown at women.”
Gabby Logan—who is presenting Amazon Prime Video's coverage of the Autumn Nations Series—also defended Raducanu and said the teen hasn't played long enough to be used as a reference of pitfalls.
“Unbelievably unfair and not even remotely comparable," Logan wrote on Twitter. “She is 18 in her first six months of being pro.
“She made the second week of Wimbledon and won the U.S. Open having never played on the Tour.
“Imagine an 18-year-old rugby player winning a World Cup having never played a club game."
Logan also pointed to Serena Williams and Cristiano Ronaldo as examples of players who have thrived in their professional careers while earning huge amounts through endorsements and sponsorship deals.
It's been two-and-a-half years since Haskell announced his retirement from rugby, but the sense of allegiance to his former coach appears to remain strong after Jones' comments landed him in hot water.
The England chief has a dilemma this week in whether to start Smith against Australia at Twickenham on Saturday.
Captain Owen Farrell has been cleared to return to the team after a false positive Covid-19 test ruled him out of the win over Tonga, though it's possible he could move to centre in a bid to accommodate Smith.
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