Sunday 18 February 2018

Everything is fair game even if the game is not fair

‘I do anything to win,’ said England head coach Eddie Jones. Photo: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
‘I do anything to win,’ said England head coach Eddie Jones. Photo: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
David Kelly

David Kelly

The reason it can sometimes be so difficult to tell the difference between a bully and a coward is usually because they are often one and the same.

For more than a decade at the cutting edge of world rugby, Eddie Jones has developed a hard-nosed reputation that carries with it many of the bully's calling cards; ostensibly, he does it to energise his team and, if it enervates the opposition too, well call it a bonus.

A bit like Mike Brown's swinging yellow boot, nothing is ever done to deliberately damage anyone but words and deeds may still be reckless enough to cause untold harm; anything goes, basically.

While he was perfectly within his rights to question the Irish medical staff - especially when the Irish are never given the opportunity to do so - and launch his entertaining assault on Ireland's kicking tactics, recruiting a player's parents to his cause was crass.

"I don't regret it, mate. It's a sideshow. It's over," he told the world shortly after full-time, during the course of a diverting tete-a-tete with the broadcast media about ethics and such-like.

"I do anything to win," he has said before. Jones remains unapologetic, his full-back Brown has remained stubbornly uncontrite, also.

"If the ball is on the ground you are allowed to kick it," puffs Jones. Albeit, despite the predictable muddling of the sport's disciplinary system, one shouldn't do so - repeatedly - if one's head is adjacent to said ball.


The Jones view, quite clearly, is that Murray was fair game. In his world view, everything is fair game, even sly attacks on the parents of an opposition player.

Rugby has wrapped itself in knots with a moral panic about what acts are accidental or intentional, reckless or careless and it is difficult to know if anybody knows the difference any more.

Ireland, increasingly becoming like choir boys in the brutish world of international rugby, taking knives to gun fights while peering majestically from upon an ivory tower, can't claim innocence in the ways of the world either.

"A player getting a kick in the head is never a good idea, is it?" muses Rob Kearney. He should know, given that his brother was once knocked out by the swinging boot of Paul O'Connell.

Then Leinster coach, Schmidt's extravagant anger then contrasted with the priestly puritan who presented on Saturday.

Ireland may be winning the moral high ground now, but doing so while they are consistently failing to win matches is not exactly the trade-off they are seeking.

"I think it's a personal choice," says Schmidt. "I don't preach ethics to other people."

For England, winning by any means necessary is all that matters and yet when I asked Jones to expand upon the motivation behind his attempts to rouse the opposition, the erstwhile aggressor was suddenly transformed into a cornered, aggrieved and simpering wreck.

Had his attempts to unsettle Schmidt and Ireland by focusing on kicking led to their change of tactics?

"I've no idea, mate. You'd have to talk to their coach."

Well, then, was he surprised that Ireland did indeed play wider than many had expected, while kicking far less? "We were pleasantly surprised, mate."

And so, is that why you made those comments, to make them go wider? "You'd have to talk to the Irish coach, mate."

For some reason, 'Edgy' perceives questioning as attacking; with the bright lights off, the Australian is suddenly not brimming with brash and the bravado.

And yet mine is a curious, not aggrandising, query. You do like to influence the game in advance and it works? "Of course you do. What's wrong with that? Why are you being critical of that?"

You are not, you reply, in exasperation; Jones - more intelligent than he would like to let on - either misses the point or fails to appreciate it. The point is this must have proved successful in the past or else why do it?

"I don't know, mate. I'm not that smart. I'm an Australian, I'm a convict, mate."

Or perhaps he is just utterly insecure and must seek to lash out; sadly, it may become an affliction that may now affect his players; they meet the world champions of trash talk to decide the Championship in two weeks' time.

This, more than anything, will inform Jones' verbal tics as Wales return to the home of England's World Cup humiliation; the self-imposed "media ban" is hardly likely to last.

"We easily won that game today," says Jones. "We left 10-15 points out there ... if we'd come away 40-10, we'd be pretty happy. We should have been ahead by 20 points at half-time.

"Who was the most disciplined team in the last 10 minutes? We were. I think we won the penalty count 3-0. That's the 10 minutes that counts.


"Experience comes into it and we've got a bloody young team here. We were four years younger per player than Ireland today and we had 100 caps less, so it's a good sign that we were able to absorb those pressure situations and win the game."

That they probably would have done so anyway without all the trash talk off the field and illegality on it will not give Jones or his squad any pause for thought.

Yesterday, he reiterated the point that his messages are meant to be heard by players and families, including, presumably, Sexton's, adding, "People think this is all about life and death. It's just a bit of fun."

Imposing a gagging order on himself might have been his cleverest move to date. Sadly, we can't see it lasting.

A monkish reticence doesn't sit easily with someone who, when he is not picking a fight with everyone in the room, thinks everyone in the room is trying to pick a fight with him.

He just can't help himself, mate.

Irish Independent

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