Rugby World Cup 2019: Emotional Eddie Jones holds back tears discussing what it means to lead England

Australian revealed a softer side to him on the eve of England’s Rugby World Cup campaign as he prepares for his – and his side’s – now or never moment

Jack de Menezes
Sapporo
Saturday 21 September 2019 09:34
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Eddie Jones and Owen Farrell preview World Cup clash with Tonga

On the eve of England’s opening Rugby World Cup match against Tonga, Eddie Jones was so overcome with emotion that he was forced to hold back tears when discussing what it means to lead this team into the tournament.

The Australian has strongly talked up England’s ability to match the pride and passion that will fuel Tonga on Sunday in their opening Pool C clash in an effort to provoke the desired response from his players.

But it came as a surprise when he welled up after being asked for his own personal feelings of leading England into a Rugby World Cup.

“It's humbling, mate. It's a great honour to coach England, and…”

At this point, Jones paused for much longer than usual during his answers, and his eyes had visibly started to water, before he added: “I just want to make sure I do my best.”

It was a side rarely seen of Jones, perhaps only once before when he broke down discussing his late father on a podcast for The Times.

It did not take the 59-year-old long to snap back into character, discussing the excitement of the occasion, what he wants from his players and how England can match what Tonga will bring in Sapporo this weekend. But it was enough to display just how much this means to him; four years work – and also a career’s-worth – in an effort to win the World Cup as a head coach in his own merit.

Of course, he came mighty close 16 years ago only for - of all teams – England to deny his Wallabies side, and while he was a key part in South Africa’s 2007 world champion side, it was still ultimately Jake White’s team. 2015 will remain one of the great moments of World Cup history, but not even beating the Springboks with Japan in Brighton could live up to what winning Japan 2019 would mean to him.

“I’m massively nervous and I’m massively excited,” he added. “If I didn’t have that feeling, I’d be a little bit worried. Because you don’t know. The one thing we don’t control is the results of games. We control the preparation for the games and every coach – all 20 coaches out here – is having this conversation now. They all think they’ve done a great job preparing their team, but we don’t know, do we?”

Jones compared what lies ahead of all 20 teams in Japan as a rollercoaster ride, with whichever team who emerges triumphant the one who learn how best to deal not with the ups, but with the inevitable downs along the way. Vomit when you get to the bottom of the drop, and you’ll be getting off the ride early.

Eddie Jones became emotional during his pre-match press conference ahead of the World Cup

“That’s the amazing thing about World Cups. You are playing seven rugby games so it’s no different than anything else, but it is in extraordinary circumstances. You go outside and there are spectators. There are Australian supporters, there are Fijian supporters, there are English supporters. It just creates a different atmosphere,” he added.

“Going into your first game, you never know what it is going to be like. Your second game, you don’t know what it is going to be like, because everyone has had the best preparation they’ve ever had. Everyone has prepared to win the World Cup. There are 20 teams all sitting at the top of that rollercoaster now. Everyone thinks they are prepared for it. Some will be prepared for it and some won’t be prepared.

‘Within the group, you are going to have players with varying degrees of adaptability and adjustment, and you have to try to help them get through it.”

Jones should have a good idea with what is coming their way on Sunday. The Tongan coach, Toutai Kefu, forged his international career under the guidance of Jones within the Wallabies set-up, leaving a lasting impression on the England boss that remains today.

“A brilliant guy, I loved him,” he said. “Tough, skilful, a great team man. He was always one of the first guys you picked.

“And a great bloke off the field, a bit of a rogue. Loves the bet, loves the beer. Probably a typical Aussie. I admire the job he has done with Tonga. For a young guy, the job he has done coaching a difficult country - he has stuck at it and it is his second World Cup. There is a lot to admire about him.”

Kefu was born in Tonga and harbours that same passionate aggression that will meet England. Earlier in the week, England’s own Tongan insider, Billy Vunipola, admitted that the Pacific Islanders will be using the notion that England do not respect them as fuel to stoke the fire within them.

“We are not disrespectful,” said Jones, returning to the argument that the best way to beat Tonga tomorrow is to match emotion with emotion. “Every team has prepared well. Kefu has done a great job with Tonga and he will have them tight, they will have that ferocious pride. They are playing for more than just a game of rugby. They are playing for a small country that fights against the odds and players there are fighting for their livelihoods, we know it means a lot for them. We understand how much emotion and intensity will go into the game and we have to match that.

“I think World Cups are always emotional. You get to do something that is pretty special. To coach a nation and to be responsible for a nation at a World Cup, where you know it's not just rugby fans watching. Families watch world cups, that's the difference. It becomes an event for the country, rather than an event for rugby followers. It becomes an event for this country here. To be involved in that is a real honour.”

Perhaps it is nerves, or perhaps every word remains calculated by Jones to play into his master plan. Either way, it was a side not seen within him for the last four years, and given he has not always proven the warmest of individuals, maybe he is human after all. Over the course of the next six weeks, depending on how long England last, we’re sure to find out.

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