Eddie Jones on England coach job: ‘This was the chance of a lifetime – I had to take it’

Despite World Cup debacle, Jones attracted by English talent

Chris Hewett
Rugby Union correspondent
Saturday 21 November 2015 01:33 GMT
Eddie Jones, the new England Rugby head coach, posing at Twickenham Stadium
Eddie Jones, the new England Rugby head coach, posing at Twickenham Stadium (Getty )

Eddie Jones has a passion for cricket – “After this job, I WILL be spending my time watching Test matches in Barbados,” he promised his audience at Twickenham – and he has a well-earned reputation for playing extravagant shots all round the wicket when it comes to sporting conversation. Today was different. English rugby’s first foreign national coach expected some hostile fast bowling from the home-town questioners and met it with a straight bat instead of smashing it out of the ground.

Pressed hard on a variety of issues that lay at the heart of the international game in this country and are likely to define his four-year stewardship of the red-rose team, the fast-talking Australian with an answer for everything decided that, on this occasion, discretion was the better part of valour. He would not be drawn on the future employment prospects of the three remaining coaches from the Stuart Lancaster regime – Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt – and went out of his way to stress the importance of forming tight bonds with the rugby directors of the Premiership clubs, despite his well-publicised reservations about their contractual hold over the best players in the country.

But as ever with Jones, there were scraps of meat on the bone. “In terms of the coaching staff,” he said, “I’ll assess those that are here now, speak to them individually and work out what they can offer, going forward. If they offer what I want, they can have the job. If they don’t, I’ll look at other options. There are no guarantees. I have to pick the right staff.”

Might Steve Borthwick, the former England captain with whom he worked so productively just recently in shaping Japan’s unexpectedly successful World Cup campaign, be at the forefront of his thoughts? “If Steve is one of the guys we need,” the new boss replied, “we’ll have that discussion.”

It transpired that Jones first met Ian Ritchie, the Rugby Football Union chief executive, in Cape Town exactly a week ago. The 55-year-old Tasmanian had only just started work with the Stormers, the local Super Rugby franchise, and was on record as saying that he was fully committed to a three-year stint in one of the world’s most vibrant rugby union environments.

“It’s funny how things work out,” he reflected. “Last week I was in Cape Town, looking at Table Mountain through my sunglasses. Now I’m here, with my overcoat on. People who know me understand that I’m always 100 per cent committed to the team I’m with and that I don’t like to let people down. I don’t feel good about what I did to the Stormers. But this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I had to take it.” Was it all about the scale of the challenge? Did he see the England job as the toughest in the sport? “If it was the toughest, I’d still be in Cape Town,” he replied. “There’s talent in this country and that’s what make it exciting. When you have talent, you have a chance of building something.”

Jones is renowned as a “no stone left unturned” type and, true to form, he was up at 4am today, casting an eye over footage of last weekend’s European matches involving English clubs. It was an impressive detail – he will not feature on the Twickenham payroll until the start of next month – but then, he has plenty on his plate. A new Elite Player Squad is due to be named shortly after Christmas, and England travel to Murrayfield for a deeply uncomfortable Calcutta Cup match against Vern Cotter’s Scotland in the first week of February.

“I know this is coach-speak, but we have to win that game in Edinburgh and then move on from there,” he commented. “There are two things you need to win in this sport: you need talent and you need cohesion. There is plenty of talent, as I’ve said, so what we have to work on is the other thing. That’s about identifying our strengths and keep improving on them, and identifying areas where we need to develop a competitive edge.

“I’d like to think the teams I’ve coached have had good attacking games. Traditionally speaking, England have been strong at set-piece and had a bulldog defence. I don’t want to take that away; I want to add to it. What we have to do is create a unique style of play, a style that suits us – one that the players can believe in. Everyone talks about the All Blacks, but we won’t be copying them. I want the All Blacks to copy England.”

Essentially, Jones was talking about bringing some clarity to red-rose affairs – the kind of clarity that was conspicuous by its absence during a benighted World Cup campaign in which Lancaster’s befuddled team repeatedly disappeared into their own nether regions. But can a clear, easily understandable collective approach be easily put in place in a club-driven system where most players spend 80 per cent of their seasons performing in a fashion far removed from the England ideal?

“That happens everywhere in the world,” Jones argued. “The important thing is having the ability, when you’re in the national team environment, to understand how that team plays – to accept that if you want to play for the national side, this is the way you do it. To me, it doesn’t matter what a player does at his club. One thing I might do when people first come into camp is get them to wear their club colours – and then remove them. If anyone wants to wear his club jersey under his England jersey, he won’t be playing for England.”

It was a hard message – every bit as hard as Matt Giteau, the brilliant Wallaby midfielder who first blossomed under Jones’ tutelage, had warned it would be. Jones smiled at the reminder. “Gits is right: I’m direct when I need to be direct,” he said. “But I can be soft as well. I want to be honest with the players. When I talk to them, it’s because I’m trying to improve their rugby.”

Keeping up with Jones: New man’s high and lows

Three highs

2001 Jones coaches Australia A to victory over British and Irish Lions before going on to take the Wallabies job after Rod Macqueen retires.

2007 Jones returns to international rugby as part of Jake White’s South Africa set-up, which went on to win the World Cup, beating England 15-6 in the final in Paris.

2015 Having spent six years in Japan, Jones masterminds the greatest upset in World Cup history as the Brave Blossoms beat South Africa 34-32.

Three lows

2003 Australia fail to win the Rugby World Cup on home soil after suffering a 20-17 defeat by England in extra time in a nail-biting final at Sydney’s Telstra Stadium.

2005 After a run of seven straight defeats, and despite a spate of injuries, Jones is sacked by Australia with two years left on his contract.

2007 Jones returns to Super Rugby with the Queensland Reds, but they finish the season bottom and Jones is dismissed after one year.

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