London (AFP) - England were left looking for a new head coach nine months out from next year's World Cup after the Rugby Football Union announced Tuesday that Eddie Jones had been sacked.
Veteran Australian boss Jones paid the price for presiding over England's worst year since 2008, the team losing six out of 12 Tests, with five wins and a draw.
He was the second head coach to be fired in 24 hours after Wales replaced Wayne Pivac with predecessor Warren Gatland.
Jones was contracted to take England through until the end of the 2023 World Cup in France -- he guided them to the 2019 final where they were beaten by South Africa -- but the RFU has curtailed his seven-year reign.
Steve Borthwick, the former England captain turned boss of Premiership champions Leicester, is the favourite to succeed Jones full time, having been a long-serving deputy to the 62-year-old at both Japan and England.
But the RFU said Tuesday forwards coach Richard Cockerill would take charge of England on an interim basis.
'Hard driving taskmaster'
Jones was proud of England's achievements during his tenure, saying: "I am pleased with much that we have achieved as an England team and I look forward to watching the team's performance in the future."
RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said: "It's important to recognise the huge contribution Eddie has made to English rugby, winning three Six Nations, one Grand Slam and taking us to a World Cup final."
Jones' future was in the balance following a recent Autumn series where a lone win over Japan and fortunate draw with New Zealand were bookended by defeats by Argentina and South Africa.
The RFU then called in an anonymous panel to review the Autumn campaign -- standard procedure after all major series -- but it was clear Jones' job was on the line despite a 73 percent win rate as England coach.
The panel's findings paved the way for the RFU board to confirm Jones' exit on Tuesday.
But the governing body were tight-lipped about Jones' permanent replacement ahead of England's Six Nations opener at home to Scotland on February 4, saying only that changes would be announced in the "near future".
Their options have been reduced in recent days, with La Rochelle coach Ronan O'Gara, the former Ireland fly-half, ruling himself out of the England running and Gatland rejoining Wales.
Crusaders chief Scott Robertson is an alternative, but a lack of international experience and knowledge of the English game could count against the New Zealander.
It had previously been agreed Jones would step down after the 2023 World Cup.
But the often outspoken coach's departure was hastened following a decisive 27-13 loss to the Springboks in England's final match of this year, with usually loyal home fans jeering the team off the Twickenham pitch after a lacklustre display.
It all left Jones more vulnerable than at any time since his appointment after a 2015 World Cup where hosts England crashed out in the group stage.
Jones' position was not helped when his media advisor, David Pembroke described Sweeney as "slippery" while accusing him of leaking stories to the press.
Jones made an immediate positive impact, leading England to a 2016 Grand Slam, a launchad for a run of 17 straight wins at the start of his reign, with further Six Nations titles won in 2017 and 2020.
He also took England to the 2019 World Cup final in Japan only for the team to suffer a crushing 32-12 defeat by South Africa.
Jones admitted he should have stood down as Australia coach after the Wallabies' 2003 World Cup final loss to England, but stayed too long only to be sacked in 2005.
And with England there were always doubts over whether his intense methods -- he got through some 200 players in matches and training squads, as well as numerous coaching staff -- could be sustained over two World Cup cycles.
"There's been rumours about Eddie being a hard driving taskmaster," former England captain Lewis Moody told the BBC.
Jones, however, recently told Men's Health UK magazine: "I'm 62 now and I think in pure coaching terms I am coaching better than I ever have."