Eddie Jones calls on England to ‘change history’ and replace New Zealand as world No 1
Bullish England coach believes his charges can spring a shock
Eddie Jones: “We are ready for the game, we’ve had two-and-a-half years to prepare for this game.” Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
Kick-off: 9am Irish time, Saturday. Venue: International Stadium, Yokohama. How to follow: The Irish Times liveblog will begin at 8.30am. On TV: Live on Eir Sport, RTÉ2 and ITV.
Eddie Jones has urged England to knock New Zealand off their perch and replace them as the dominant force in world rugby. Jones has described the All Blacks as the greatest team in sport but has called on his players to “change history” in the World Cup semi-final tomorrow.
Jones yesterday confirmed his decision to recall George Ford for England’s first World Cup semi-final for 12 years and reiterated his belief that no one outside the camp believes they are capable of beating New Zealand, who have not lost a match at the tournament since 2007 and are bidding for an unprecedented third consecutive title.
The All Blacks are also ranked No 1 in the world – a position they held for 10 consecutive years until Wales and Ireland enjoyed spells at the top shortly before the start of the competition.
England, on the other hand, have not occupied top spot for 15 years and have not beaten the All Blacks since 2012. Last year they lost their only match against New Zealand under Jones, going down by a point.
Jones, however, believes England can establish themselves as the world’s best. Before the World Cup started he invited Alex Ferguson to address his squad and in echoes of the former Manchester United manager’s claim that usurping rivals Liverpool was his greatest achievement, he said: “When you’ve been involved in rugby the country you want to knock off is New Zealand, because they’ve been the best. And the reason you’re involved in this game is you want to be the best.
“You’ve got the opportunity to change rugby history. We’re not the best in the world, but we’ve got an opportunity on Saturday to go a step further. I don’t think [rugby] needs it but I think we need it.”
Jones, who helped beat the All Blacks five times in 11 matches when in charge of Australia, added: “We are ready for the game, we’ve had two-and-a-half years to prepare for this game. A lot  of our players were involved on the  Lions tour. Every game they play at the Six Nations the other country is coming for them.
“This is a big game, let’s not doubt that, but our players have had big-match experience. They’ve failed, they’ve had success and that’s one of the big things I like about this team. We’ve had to learn from those wins, those losses and Saturday it’ll be tested again. We want to write the script, we don’t want to be watching it, we’ve got to be in there writing it.”
Jones expects England supporters to be outnumbered at the 72,000 seat Yokohama Stadium, in the main because despite his close links with Japan he believes the locals have adopted the All Blacks as their second team. He urged those in attendance to show their support, however.
“We saw that in the football World Cup and in the cricket World Cup and we are feeling it in the rugby World Cup.
“Our supporters have got a big job for us. We need them to be at their most vocal. They need to drink a fair bit of beer beforehand and be ready to go. Most people think New Zealand are going to win, that’s the reality. We’ve got 31 players and 20-odd staff who believe we can win, we’re the only people in Japan who think we can win.”
Ford’s recall is the only change made by Jones, with Courtney Lawes keeping his place in the second row. George Kruis had emerged as a candidate to start given his lineout expertise and the fact that was an area England struggled with in the second half of their defeat by New Zealand last year.
“The most crucial stage of this game is going to be the second 20 minutes of the second half, where the game’s going to be won or lost,” said Jones. “We’ve particularly been more diligent in selecting our team to take that into consideration. In fact we selected our finishing team first.”
Meanwhile, Jones refused to be drawn on speculation linking him with the vacant Australia job after the World Cup, following the departure of Michael Cheika as head coach. Jones is contracted to the Rugby Football Union until 2021 but has a break clause which can be activated after the tournament.
Asked about the Wallabies vacancy, he said: “The only thing I’m thinking of is the game on Saturday, that’s not coming into my mindset at the moment. I don’t think that’s really a question for today.”