‘Intense’ Felix Jones ready to make his mark on England in Six Nations

Former Irish fullback brings two World Cup winners medals with him from his time with South Africa

It has been a signature piece of Felix Jones that he allows those around him do the talking. Two coaching World Cup medals with South Africa probably says as much as needs saying but this week England coach Steve Borthwick enthusiastically embraced his new addition at the Dublin launch of the Six Nations Championship.

“He’s one of the most intense people I have ever met,” said Borthwick. “And if I can tell you that, it is saying something.”

Jones’s name arose as the coach spoke about how England supporters “deserve better” than what the national team have given them in recent years. Declining to point to the World Cup, where England beat Argentina in the bronze-medal final, previous results from Six Nations championships were likely in Borthwick’s head. That’s where Jones will come in.

England’s win rate has been, for them, abysmal over the last six tournaments, with only a 50 per cent win ratio during that time. That includes fifth-place finishes. Borthwick spoke about his reshuffled team being competitive in every match before heading into a warm‑weather training camp in Girona this week.


Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus, who Jones assisted for three years at Munster, described his departure as a blow, the move to England also directed by needs of his family, who were not based in South Africa.

Ruled out of 2011 Rugby World Cup with an ankle problem, in 2015 Jones was forced to retire with a neck injury, aged 28. In 2019, Springboks backline coach Swys de Bruin left the set-up due to health reasons and Erasmus called on Jones as a consultant for the Rugby World Cup, knowing that they would probably play Scotland or Ireland or England. The rest is history.

His move to England was flagged in March of last year with his appointment almost certainly crossing the desk of another former Irish fullback, Conor O’Shea, the RFU’s executive director of performance rugby. At the time Borthwick was clear about the reasons he chose Jones.

“Felix has been competing at the top of world rugby during his four years with South Africa and will bring invaluable experience to our set-up,” he said. “Together with Richard Wigglesworth and Kevin Sinfield, we are putting in place a coaching team who have spent their careers at the highest level competing for trophies. That is exactly what we want for this England team.”

Sinfield will step down after England’s summer tour to Japan and New Zealand, while his 2024 role will change from taking charge of the defence to skills/kicking. Jones has taken over as defence coach with former All Blacks coach Andrew Strawbridge also joining the team for four weeks as a consultant. The 59-year-old New Zealander was recently part of the All Blacks senior set-up as a skills consultant, where he helped the team make it to the World Cup final in France.

“Meeting with him, being on the phone with him, having a conversation with him for an hour, and not getting a word in because he has so much rugby knowledge, it is unreal,” said Borthwick of Jones. “And a work ethic that is astounding. And I have seen people who have worked very hard. This guy, I don’t know whether he sleeps because the amount of material that he works through, the amount he sends me, what he talks about ... so he has the work ethic.”

In a press conference at the Springbok base in Toulon last autumn Jones spoke of every team having its own way of playing, its own DNA, or style to which it wants to stay true. It’s probable he will bring to England something similar to the ferocious breakdown Jacques Nienaber brings to Leinster, although Borthwick did not bring up the possibility of seven forwards and one back on the bench, which South Africa introduced last year.

“His understanding of areas of the game ... we were sat the other day looking at some stuff on his laptop, where he was picking apart an area of the game,” said Borthwick. “Picking it apart, an area of contact. And showing things that I don’t think I’ve ever heard any other coach discuss. That knowledge is groundbreaking that he has.

“And when he presented to the players last week, the room had that deathly silence. When a coach is presenting up front, I usually come down the sides just to be able to scan across the players. Hardly blinking and transfixed by what he is saying. That ability to do that is superb. So, work ethic, incredible knowledge and grasp of concepts and he has the players’ attention.”

A wow factor, too, as England prepare to face Italy in Rome in their first championship game.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times