Eddie Jones calm ahead of an All Blacks Test to define his tenure
England coach laughs off spying claims and insists his side have got nothing to lose
Owen Farrell trains ahead of England’s Rugby World Cup semi-final against the All Blacks. Photograph: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty
Eddie Jones has shown rare signs of emotion in front of the English media in this tournament. Perhaps the pressure of guiding England in the World Cup in Japan, where the Australian’s mother and wife hail from - and where he coached the Brave Blossoms to the last World Cup - is affecting him.
But he was in vintage form on Tuesday, relishing the spotlight as he and his team prepare to face the back-to-back champions, and keen to portray mighty England as underdogs. True to type, he also chucked in a few grenades, claiming that England’s training session was spied upon and that the New Zealand media were fans with keyboards.
Suggesting one of the English journalists was “the bloke up in the apartment block today filming,” Jones was asked if there really was someone filming their training sessions.
“Possibly, but that’s part of the deal. That’s the fun of the World Cup.”
Sitting alongside his defence coach John Mitchell, whom he previously coached against when they worked with Australia and New Zealand, Jones was asked whether he’d ever been spied upon before, and quipped: “Got no idea mate think Mitch was one of them. On snapchat he’s got 15 different disguises.
“We knew it from the start, it doesn’t change anything, we love it,” he claimed.
“There was definitely someone in the apartment block filming but it might have been a Japanese fan. Don’t care mate. We have got someone there (New Zealand training) now mate.”
But had he ever actually filmed an opposing team?
“I haven’t done it since 2001 - used to do it.”
Is it ethically wrong to film another team’s training?
“You just don’t need to do it anymore, you can see everything. You can watch everyone’s training on Youtube. There’s no value in doing that sort of thing, absolutely zero.”
However, underpinning this entire week is the knowledge that this semi-final especially will define Jones’ tenure as England coach.
His primary focus has always been to win the World Cup. He should be judged on that. This semi-final was also the game he has been preparing for above all others since the draw was made.
“I can remember being in Kyoto two and a half years ago and quickly you could do the mathematics - even an Australian could do the mathematics - that we were going to play New Zealand in a semi-final. Progressively we’ve built a game that we think we can take New Zealand with and we’ve done that over the last two and a half years. We’re just excited by the possibility.”
Jones was also eager to suggest that the pressure was more on the All Blacks than his team.
“It’s the most exciting week of the rugby calendar because the best four teams are playing against each other. We get to play one of the greatest teams ever that are shooting for a ‘threepeat’, which has never been done, so that brings an element of pressure to their team.
“I don’t think they are vulnerable but pressure is a real thing. The busiest bloke in Tokyo this week will be Gilbert Enoke, the (All Blacks) mental skills coach. They have to deal with all this pressure of winning the World Cup three times and it is potentially the last game for their greatest coach and their greatest captain and they will be thinking about those things.
“Those thoughts go through your head. It is always harder to defend a World Cup and they will be thinking about that and therefore there is pressure.”
By contrast, Jones maintained: “We don’t have any pressure, mate. Put up your hand if you think we can win.”
No-one did, which suited his purposes.
“There you go, so no one. No one thinks we can win. There are 120million Japanese people out there whose second team are the All Blacks. So there’s no pressure on us, we’ve just got to have a great week, enjoy it, relax, train hard and enjoy this great opportunity we’ve got.”
After all he achieved with Japan, including the Brave Blossoms’ famous win over the Springboks four years ago, maybe All Blacks’ popularity hereabouts rankles with him.
“I’ve seen all the All Black jerseys around, even my wife I have to tell her to stop barracking for them. The Japanese love all that. The Samurais are mystique characters in Japanese history and it’s the same for the All Blacks. Japanese love that, the haka and all that goes around that. That’s their second team.”
The All Blacks have ten players who’ve appeared in a World Cup semi-final before, whereas England have none, but Jones pointed out: “Our guys have experienced it - 17 of our players went on the Lions tour. They went down there, they played in their back yard. They know they’re human. They bleed, they drop balls, they miss tackles like every other player. It’s our job to take the time and space away so that we put them under pressure.
“New Zealand talk about walking towards pressure, well this week the pressure is going to be chasing them down the street. That’s the reality of it, that’s how we’re approaching it.
“We’ve got nothing to lose, that’s the exciting thing for us. We can just go out there and play our game. If we’re good enough we’ll win, if we’re not good enough we’ve done our best.”
When it was put to him that it was not true no one thought England could win, Jones retorted: “Well I couldn’t see too many hands go up. A good question is a fast question. You’ve got to be quick on the floor.
“Look, one week ago, I was going to get sacked, Owen (Farrell) couldn’t kick, someone wrote there’d be blood on the walls of Twickenham,” said Jones in response to some of the criticism aimed his way at breaking up the George Ford-Farrell 10-12 combination, restoring the latter to outhalf for their quarter-final against Australia.
In maintaining this was more about the players, nonetheless he gave an indication into the pressures that come with being the England team.
“The England team is in usual circumstances, because you get so much media exposure, you get media pressure, everything is scrutinised, the players are scrutinised, the coaches are scrutinised. We have such a complex landscape in England, and the players have just stuck to the task of what we want to be. We said four years ago we wanted to be the best team in the world, and we are going towards that.”
In the knowledge that the All Blacks camp would be made aware of his comments, this was also his cue to say: “Well someone has to ask them a question because the New Zealand media doesn’t - you guys are just fans with a keyboard. Someone has to ask them some questions. The English media - a week ago I was going to get sacked; we couldn’t play. We deal with a completely different situation.”
Tuesday was a bank holiday in Japan as Emperor Naruhito formally proclaimed his ascension to the throne in an elaborate ceremony. The emperor, 59, officially began his reign in May after the abdication of his father, the then Emperor Akihito.
The ceremony came in the wake of Typhoon Hagibis, which left almost 80 people dead, and a celebration parade was postponed out of respect for the victims and their families. Hundreds of foreign dignitaries, including the Prince Charles, were in attendance.
The last time an enthronement ceremony took place was in 1990, when the then-emperor Akihito formally ascended the throne, and small crowds were outside the palace despite a heavy downpour.
“It’s a change in history isn’t it?” said Jones. “It’s a change in the history of Japan. Now we are going to have a change in the history of the World Cup. It’s nice symmetry, and I do believe in omens.”
The All Blacks captain Kieran Read and the England winger Jonny May both sat out training on Tuesday, but Steve Hansen and Jones expressed 100 per cent confidence that they would both be fit, although the former has ruled out Matt Todd, the All Blacks’ replacement backrower against Ireland, due to his shoulder injury.