Austin Healy:Yes, Jones is arrogant - that's why England are buzzing right now
Australian coach's relentless bullishness and swagger is rubbing off on his players ahead of Ireland clash
Published 25/02/2016 | 19:17
Confidence is a fickle, fleeting commodity in sport. Contrary to what you might hear on a TED Talk, you cannot fake it until you make it, particularly on a pitch with millions of people watching your every move.
Look closely enough and you will quickly spot those individuals who are low on confidence. Body language betrays underlying emotions. A slumped shoulder here, a bowed head there can tell you so much.
Confidence impacts your whole body. When you go out very confident, you feel light and quick. You feel really alert. Conversely after a couple of bad performances, your attitude is to work harder, which can often be counterproductive.
A classic example of that has been George North, who has not played particularly well for a period of time both for Northampton, where he has been starved of ball, and for Wales. Then you get to the Scotland match and suddenly it just clicked for him. Watch him against France and I can promise he will be a completely different player because he has got that spring, that bounce in his step.
So while much focus will be placed on the kicking battle, the set-piece and other tactical areas ahead of England’s match against Ireland on Saturday, confidence will play the largest role in shaping the outcome with the teams kicking off at opposite ends of the spectrum.
England are buoyant under Eddie Jones, who has done a brilliant job in rebuilding confidence that was shattered by the experience of the World Cup. Coming out before the Italy saying we should give them a good hiding was a great tactic. It is the type of statement England coaches should be making but they are afraid of being labelled an arrogant Englishman. Stuart Lancaster would have been crucified for saying such a thing.
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Jones gets away with it because he’s Australian and he truly doesn’t give a second thought to other people’s opinions. It is a funny thing with the English, we accept other nations being arrogant but we are mortified to be labelled that ourselves. God forbid that anyone should perceive us as arrogant or confident in our abilities.
While not everything Jones has said has been flattering of the team with regards to their fitness, he has only ever backed his individual players in public, in particular Chris Robshaw and George Ford who both had difficult World Cups. Ford, in particular, has struggled this season as the central cog in a Bath machine that has severely misfired. That is bound to affect him.
It takes a very special individual not to read the papers or hear what people are saying television. When people say George Ford is not quite on his game it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Suddenly that seed is planted and once it becomes real in your head then it has a big effect.
Jones, though, has showered Ford with nothing but praise and support. He has made clear that he is No1 fly-half come what may. When you are coaching kids in any sport, you emphasise the positive parts of their performance. They need encouragement and support. If there are faults in their game, you don’t highlight them critically but discuss them in a constructive, supportive manner Fundamentally, much the same applies for international rugby players. They need the same love.
That has a huge impact on the team and we saw signs of that in the second half of the Italy game. With England ahead by a couple of points, the default mode of the old regime would have been to to close the game out and settle for the victory. Risks would have been eschewed. But the confidence that Eddie Jones has given England meant they really went for it.
Would Danny Care have put that lovely grubber kick through for Jonathan Joseph if he was not confident? Most coaches tell players do not kick in the red zone unless you are 100 per cent sure. Eddie’s message seems to be go out there and play, if you see an opportunity take it, back yourself rather than back away from the opportunity.
Meanwhile, Ireland are in a very different place to when they last played England in the Six Nations on the back of nine successive victories. Since then they have won seven of their next 13 games while suffering a terrible run of injuries. You saw against France, little mistakes and miscues that they simply were not making 12 months ago.
Yet confidence is such a strange beast that the situation can change very quickly. Ireland’s uncapped players Stuart McCloskey and Josh Van Der Flier will come into the game buzzing. All it can take is one big tackle, one run to lift the rest of the team from their malaise. England have not had things all their own way against Scotland and Italy, but if Ireland get the upper hand early it will be fascinating to see how they respond against a quality team.