Eddie Jones: Players will learn I am a devil and an angel
Eight days after being unveiled in Cape Town as the Stormers coach, Eddie Jones was unveiled at Twickenham as the England coach.
This rapid hemispherical leap brought him into the home of a powerful and wealthy governing body but a shattered rugby operation.
The pitch that Jones instinctively reached down to touch as he took a tour and posed for photographs was the stage for England’s mortifying World Cup exit, 16 days into their own tournament. The Rugby Football Union wore a relieved grin. But far beyond the venue where New Zealand retained the Webb Ellis trophy there is an England squad that was shattered by the defeats by Wales and Australia and by a humiliating inquest.
Those players are now dispersed across Premiership rugby, which is where Jones first looked to see what he will be working with. “It was interesting watching the games I saw at the weekend. I thought most of the national team players played quite well,” he said. “They looked to be really hungry to play again. Sometimes when you have a tournament like that, you lose your love for the game.”
Ian Ritchie, the RFU chief executive, has appointed a coach who is Stuart Lancaster’s diametric opposite. Lancaster was a rough-hewn Cumbrian with a Yorkshire coaching background. Jones is an Australian who led Japan to three World Cup pool stage wins. Lancaster was chosen by a panel of experts after exhaustive tests and interviews. Jones was hired when Ritchie jumped on a plane to Cape Town and bought the new man out of his Stormers contract. Jones is a veteran of international Test rugby; Lancaster made his debut at that level nearly four years ago against the Six Nations opponents Jones will also face first time up: England’s dear friends, the Scots.
But if Lancaster had a thorny task following the 2011 World Cup debacle, Jones has to rescue this generation from a very long night of the soul, and not just because Mike Brown, the England full-back, says the “trust has gone” from the set-up.
Many will be bitter and bruised and nervous about what lies ahead, especially after Matt Giteau, the great Australia utility back, tweeted: “Good choice picking Eddie Jones as England coach. Smart coach & will call a spade a spade! I’ve copped many sprays off him over the yrs.” Two issues need facing. One is the probability of a confidence collapse among these England players, not in themselves as individuals, necessarily, but as a team. Rugby union has only to consult England’s footballers to understand the corrosive effect of fatalism. A calamity on this autumn’s scale can erase belief. If they join the dots, Jones’ new charges will know that England have won one Six Nations title since 2003 and no Grand Slams.
For 12 years, under-achieving has become the norm. No wonder Jones cast his eagle eye on the weekend’s club action in search of signs of enthusiasm. “One of the first things we have to get back is their love for the game,” he said here. “And looking at the Premiership – or what is it called, the Champions Cup – they look like they are getting it back. Players are quite resilient. They’ll bounce back.” A test of his skill will be how he calibrates his treatment of players who, in some cases, have become, well, a bit precious, despite Lancaster’s attempt to chisel them into hardened patriots. The muddle-headedness against Wales and implosion in the Australia game suggests a number of these England players might find it hard to adapt to a coach described by some Japan players as “the devil” for the work-rate he demands.
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A Japanese television reporter challenged Jones on soundings he had made from the Brave Blossoms side who conquered South Africa in Brighton. “You can be a devil one minute and an angel the next,” Jones grinned. He says an international team need “talent and cohesion”. England may have talent (though they have yet to really prove it in the Six Nations or consistently against the Southern Hemisphere), but nobody could sensibly credit them with “cohesion” at the World Cup.
As an outsider with no reason to protect Chris Robshaw as captain, defer to egos or buy into the notion of endless English “development,” Jones is well placed to start from zero with an array of potentially very good England players. But it will be fascinating to see how they react to being “sprayed”, to use Giteau’s term.
“Look, I am direct when I need to be direct. I can be soft as well,” Jones said.
“I have learned to be soft as I got older. When you are young as a coach you are never too soft. I have learned that. What Gits is saying is right. I want to be honest with the players. The players have to understand that when I’m talking to them the only reason I’m talking to them is to improve them as players.
“I will work out who I need to be hard with and who I need to be soft with. I don’t see that as being a problem.”
The devil-angel balance will be a tough one to strike with a team who were nowhere near as good as they thought they were, and were last seen prostrate on a pitch where New Zealand were in another universe.