The coaching gospel according to Eddie Jones
The Australian has turned the fortunes of English rugby with his fearless attitude
Eddie Jones was made for his current role – to make England hateable again, to undo all the cultural niceties of the decent but ultimately doomed Stuart Lancaster regime.
Imagine there was substance, and a better vocabulary, behind Trump’s rhetoric, behind his idiotic bluster. Transfer that to a rugby environment and the reality is a coaching mastermind.
This is a man of genuine substance. When just 40, Jones smashed New Zealand’s hold on Super Rugby with the ACT Brumbies. This is the same man who discovered George Smith. And who made Japan the Buster Douglas of rugby union.
By securing a Grand Slam, followed by the humiliating/satisfying 3-0 series whitewash in Australia last June, Jones’s England avoided the very scenario that saw Lancaster’s England crumble.
Jones’s England have so far removed any margin for error, thus avoiding the decision Chris Robshaw had to make – going for a victory instead of securing a valuable draw – in the dying embers of that 2015 World Cup defeat to Wales at Twickenham.
The Jones era started by transferring the captaincy from Robshaw to Dylan Hartley.
Hartley was dropped from the World Cup squad because he headbutted Jamie George in a club match the previous May. Lancaster selected George because the four-week suspension ruled his first-choice hooker out of the opening match against Fiji.
“I have spoken to Dylan. He knows he has let himself and everyone down,” said Lancaster.
The coach who has rejuvenated Leinster’s attack this season missed a valuable trick in his native rugby land: Hartley is a leader in the uncompromising Martin Johnson mould.
“What is being a leader?” Jones asked recently. “Being a leader means every day you rock up to training, rock up to a meeting, and you get on with the job. You do it to absolutely 100 per cent. And if the guy next to you is not doing it properly, you tell him he’s not doing it properly. And you tell him how to do it.
The greatest England team was built upon the physicality of Johnson, and, before that, the suffocating Dean Richards pack. Don’t forget Lawrence Dallaglio – the nailed-on Clive Woodward captain until he was sussed in a News of the World sting. He too was forgiven and without him, without Neil Back’s guile and so on, England in 2003 do not beat the All Blacks in Wellington, do not trounce Ireland in Dublin, do not win the World Cup in extra-time.
“He’s had 60 weeks off mate, he’s a world expert!” joked Jones this week of Hartley’s rap sheet before putting the weight of his unquestioned authority behind the New Zealand-born hooker for the Six Nations and probably all the way to Japan in 2019 (if, somehow, Hartley keeps his bib clean of blood stains).
Jones instantly understood what England needed. That missing edge where the line between what is morally correct behaviour is blurred, again. A successful English rugby team has always been fuelled by the hatred of other nations. That’s in their DNA.
“Sir Clive [Woodward] summed it up best when he said everyone hates England,” said Jones. “And it’s true. Because of the history that is involved, the surrounding countries with the social and historical context, that long-seated rivalry – you can feel that hatred of England.”
Last year Joe Marler could be heard on the ref-link uttering a racial slur to Welsh prop Samson Lee. Marler got suspended. Eddie Jones backed him, picked him and moved on.
“I’m not that smart. I’m an Australian, I’m a convict, mate,” was how Jones sought to diffuse the Johnny Sexton bomb last season, after making scurrilous remarks about the outhalf’s wellbeing in the build up to Ireland’s visit to Twickenham.
It served its purpose as everyone pivoted away from the slightly framed England number 10 George Ford, who Jones was able to laud in the aftermath of a hugely satisfying victory.
“He was beautiful today, mate, beautiful. Poetry in motion. If Bob Dwyer was here, he’d be that happy. He was flat, at the line, committing defenders. He was wonderful.”
This acerbic hooker with a Napoleonic complex.
“There was Eddie, this little half-Japanese hooker, giving it to Sean Fitzpatrick,” former Wallaby flanker Simon Poidevin told Oliver Brown of the Daily Telegraph about a famous war of attrition against the touring All Blacks. “Sledge, sledge, sledge throughout the whole game. He could give an absolutely executing one-liner.”
The comments about Sexton’s parents were a smokescreen delivered as a form of sledging.
“At the right time I will [apologise to Sexton],” said Jones in a less competitive moment. “I haven’t yet but at the right time I will. Because he is a brilliant player. I love him as a player.”
A similar dose was given to Michael Cheika’s Wallabies, who England crushed four times in 2016. It has become so vicious between these old pals, who both suffered racial abuse growing up in rough Sydney suburbs, that the former Leinster coach claimed Jones’s legacy in Australia had been tarnished.
“It’s not for me to decide what my legacy is,” Jones smiled back. “It’s for other people to decide. Why would I worry about it?”
That legacy may yet have a second act. England proved a fundamental part of his coaching education before he joined Saracens in 2006.
Jones has been to the World Cup final, twice. When Jonny Wilkinson broke Australian hearts with that drop goal to capture the William Webb Ellis trophy, Jones was the 43-year-old Wallaby head coach.
On he went. The Springboks give him enormous credit for their 2007 World Cup success, as Jake White’s assistant, while Japan achieved one of the great sporting upsets of all time, all credited to this workaholic visionary.
Statistically, Jones was the coach of 2016, not Steve Hansen as World Rugby decreed, and England were the team of 2016, not the All Blacks.
Only one team remained unbeaten.
In the tattered aftermath of the World Cup, the English RFU tracked down their most reviled poacher and made him an offer that included a £100,000 payoff out of his Stormers contract.
He is the opposite of Joe Schmidt in terms of public persona, but they exude the same attention to detail, the same ruthless coaching traits.
“The end destination for us is 2019, that’s where I expect us to be at our absolute best. That’s not to say we can’t be good enough to win tournaments and Test matches along the way. That’s our aim.”
All to make England great again. March 18th, no matter what happens in the meantime, is the game that will stamp the royal seal of progress or confirm the constant Irish revolution.
Kick-off is 5pm. A perfect day in Dublin of the 2003 or 2007 ilk, depending on who prevails, seems guaranteed.
Eddie Jones on the record
“I just went through immigration and I got shunted through the area where everything got checked. That’s what I’m expecting, mate. Everything that’s done around the game is going to be co-ordinated. All co-ordinated to help Australia win. We’ve got to be good enough to control what we can control.”
– On returning to Australia as England coach.
“I’m getting too old for this. I’m 55. I should be in Barbados watching cricket.”
After Japan beat South Africa.
“There are no world-class players here but there will be in four years.”
– Jones in 2015 on England.
“Arrogance is only bad if you lose. If you are winning then it is self belief.”