Eddie Jones understands beating All Blacks at their own game is impossible

England head coach looks to ‘rebrand’ but surely he won’t completely overlook skillset

The England coach, Eddie Jones, went to four rugby matches over the weekend but it was the game he did not attend that will be talked about for years.

New Zealand’s one-sided 57-15 romp over South Africa in Durban was no routine victory. Let’s just say Jones chose an interesting time to suggest there is limited value in seeking to emulate the All Blacks.

“The thing that really annoys me in rugby at the moment is that everyone tries to copy New Zealand. Why?” asked Jones in an interview with the Sunday Times. He went on to talk about England “rebranding” the way the game is played between now and 2019. Everyone knows what he is driving at - to beat New Zealand at their own game is presently impossible - but it would be churlish to suggest the All Blacks have nothing to teach their pursuers.

It was not so much the record-breaking nine-try margin of defeat for the Springboks on home soil, as significant as that is in the historical context of the sport. What really resonated was the way the All Blacks pulled away after the interval, winning the second half by an astounding 45-6.


The speed and awareness of Beauden Barrett, the fly-paper hands of Israel Dagg, the precision of Ben Smith, the staggering all-court games of Brodie Retallick and Dane Coles, the potential of Liam Squire and Ardie Savea: the Springboks were not so much overpowered as sliced and diced by something far beyond their imaginations.

When the former All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick told Sky Sports viewers New Zealand had “taken rugby to a new level” and called them “probably the best All Blacks side I’ve seen in terms of their preparation and skillsets” he was merely stating the obvious.

Another Bledisloe Cup victory over Australia on Saturday week, their 18th win in a row, would set a record for consecutive Test wins among tier one nations, a distinction which will be furiously drawn in Lithuania whose national side also went unbeaten for 18 games between 2006-10. With all due respect to the boys from Vilnius, the two squads have nothing else in common.

It is increasingly a stretch to imagine New Zealand’s sequence being broken this autumn by Ireland - who have two shots at them in Chicago and Dublin - Italy or France, leaving the British & Irish Lions potentially facing hosts unbeaten in a Test match on home soil since 2009.

Common sense would suggest there is at least a thimble of wisdom these free-wheeling, modern-thinking All Blacks can offer the rest of the world. At the very least the increased tempo they add to their game in the second half is an example to all, as is their hunger to strike just before and after the interval and from restarts.

No side hit harder on the counterattack, none handle better flat to the gainline, none have forwards and backs who appear so absurdly interchangeable. The try scored by TJ Perenara after a quite brilliant flat pass across the defence to a full-tilt Kieran Read followed by a one-handed catch by Dagg and another one-handed offload from Coles was merely the latest eye-popping example. Dan who? Richie who?

Attempting to copy that kind of thing from a standing start is akin to buying a couple of tins of emulsion and expecting to paint like Michelangelo. That is essentially what Jones was getting at: he sees no point in England pretending to be something they are not.

He may have derived rather more enjoyment from the way Saracens shut down Wasps’ much-vaunted attacking game at the weekend; there is still no rugby team who can do much with a bristling opposition in their nostrils, intent on stopping any hint of creativity at source.

Hence Jones’s preference for big, bustling back-row forwards, tactically shrewd half-backs, physicality and attitude across the field. He says he will not turn his attention fully to England’s attack until next year, once the “traditional pillars” of set piece and defence are firmly in place.

Rebranding the way the game is played? His England team will not be taught to run until they can walk, which is a slightly sobering assessment of the second-ranked team in the world. New Zealand, in contrast, are now showing their class with Usain Bolt consistency.

As with Bolt, it is hard to think of anyone else in their respective sports who has shone brighter or made the rest of the world look so mediocre.

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