Thursday 25 May 2017

Jones bringing the confidence back to England

England head coach Eddie Jones (Reuters)
England head coach Eddie Jones (Reuters)
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

"When people ask, 'Has fame changed you', the shit answer is, 'No, of course it hasn't.' I always say, 'I hope it f****** has!' Nobody could go through what I've gone through and not be changed." - Noel Gallagher, Oasis

A few weeks before England's first Six Nations game under Eddie Jones, former Saracens chief executive Edward Griffiths gave his opinion on Jones' management style in an interview on BBC Radio 5 live.

Griffiths was at Saracens when Jones was director of rugby at the club for a short period before Jones quit in March 2009. Jones had a 'treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen' approach with the players which didn't go down well at the club, according to Griffiths.

"I think Eddie likes to put people under pressure, he likes to make people feel a little insecure, a little uncertain, even at times a little scared," Griffiths said. "I don't think that Eddie Jones would ever necessarily want his squad to feel loved."

According to Jones, that time at Saracens was "the worst he has had in rugby". So did Jones change his approach? Seven years after he left Saracens, one current Sarries player has a different view to Griffiths on Jones' management style. "I respond more to the love and compassion he shows the boys, me especially," Billy Vunipola said after his man of the match performance in England's win over Scotland. "He has just filled me with confidence and that is something I thrive on".

Jones is a curious character. He makes Warren Gatland sound like he feasts on 'The Good Guide To Bland Quotes' and we've been swallowing Wazza's little verbal splinters for years. It says a lot about how underwhelming this season's Six Nations has been that we await what Jones will add to his 'Aussie Rules' remark about the way Joe Schmidt's team play before Ireland's game against England at Twickenham today week.

At least Jones brings a bit of colour to his press conferences and he doesn't straitjacket his personality for fear of insulting a team, which, in Six Nations terms, blandly equates to publicly calling the opposition the favourites, like Jones did before their game with Scotland and the subsequent annoyance it apparently caused Vern Cotter. Yep, we're all a bit sensitive here, aren't we?

Jones doesn't take on an apologist's role for wanting his team to be a bunch of ruthless winners. "Eddie's somewhere between a devil and an angel," Japan captain Michael Leitch said recently about his former boss.

Maybe Jones was just what England needed. Stuart Lancaster's noble effort to try and change the player culture in the England squad and make them role-models rather than complete players who're able to win World Cup pool games at home was a misplaced ideal. There's pressure, for sure, but it seems like England players can just focus on playing again under Jones.

"If you are winning and you are arrogant then it is self-belief. We're going to believe we are going to be the best team in the world. If that's being arrogant then it is being arrogant. To me it is belief about what we can be," Jones has stated.

Noel Gallagher might have been interested to note that the next manager of his beloved Manchester City was one who played a role in developing Jones' way of thinking. Pep Guardiola invited Jones to Bayern Munich's training ground last year and spent an hour and a half in his company.

"I was embarrassed by my coaching after watching Pep take the session," Jones recalled.

Collisions

"He studied rugby and European handball to look at how you move the ball into space. We talked about how you move the football into space because, in rugby, once you get away from the set-piece it's like football. Players have got to know where to move in relation to where the ball is and what the defence does."

We know the northern hemisphere game puts more emphasis on the collisions rather than a 'spaces not faces' approach which makes it easy to be drawn to Jones' view about space and instinct.

"There is a lot of sequence rugby played here, by that I mean things are planned all the time. That was Test rugby 15 years ago," Jones said last month. "Rugby is a funny game because we ask players to think but we actually don't want them to think because we want them to do things instinctively. That's because if they do think, then the time's gone. If we get them to play instinctively, we'll release their potential".

'Workaholic' is a word which has followed Jones around his career. When Kanye West tweeted recently that he has no interest in working with anyone who is too important or too good or too traditional to take a call at 3am, the public portrayal we get of the England head coach would lead you to believe that Jones would agree with this.

"Look, he's going to be a great coach but you've got to be ready to work," Matt Giteau said on BBC before Jones' first England game. "There's times at 2 or 3 in the morning, he'll slip something under the door for the secretary or whoever and then by 6 or 7 he wants it back. He's a guy who doesn't sleep a great deal and he expects that from everyone else".

Sitting on top of the Six Nations table after two wins, the England players seem to be responding to Jones and his work in bringing the confidence back. After the kind of disappointment they endured at the Rugby World Cup, Jones will undoubtedly hope that nobody could go through what the England players went through and not be changed.

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