Saturday 7 December 2019

Failure not an option in Jones' ruthless culture

Eddie Jones has been enjoying his role in the England hotseat. Photo: David Rogers / Getty Images
Eddie Jones has been enjoying his role in the England hotseat. Photo: David Rogers / Getty Images
David Kelly

David Kelly

If England do win a Grand Slam in 2016, there will be historical echoes hailing from a quarter of a century ago. And their coach Eddie Jones will have intimately straddled the bookended feats.

In 1991, England were remorselessly ploughing their way towards a Grand Slam, infamously playing "functional but boring" rugby, harvesting a then record 60 points from the boot of Simon Hodgkinson and mostly ignoring Rory Underwood on the wing.

That was the last time England opened their championship challenge without conceding a try in either of their opening games; some people feel history may repeat itself.

Jones was coming to the end of his playing career at, of all places, Leicester, a far remove from the famed Sydney Randwick side best known for their elaborate expansive rugby.

When he found himself immersed in the culture of Welford Road, home of the ABC front-row of messrs Garforth, Cockerill and Rowntree and no-nonsense, ten-man rugby, he received his first insight into the mindset that, 25 years later, he is attempting to inculcate into the national side.

He only made a handful of appearances for Leicester and this is perhaps why. Awarded a lineout, Jones took a quick throw, at which one of the gasping props later, when they had eventually caught up with the play, vehemently protested.

"We don't do that type of thing in these parts," he was told in no uncertain tones. Leicester had little desire to keep up with the Jones.

England would reach that year's 1991 World Cup final, adhering to their stolid style before suddenly changing tack in the decider against the flamboyant Australians - mythically David Campese's goading is suggested to have prompted the lurch.

England lost. Jones learned two lessons that season. That he would have to adapt to cultures. And also that he would have to change them if necessary. But only when the time is right.

In 2003, England, coached by Clive Woodward, and Australia, would meet again in the World Cup final, once more goaded by the hosts who, amongst other things, demanded that the value of a drop-goal be reduced to a mere point.

This time the result was different; Jonny Wilkinson securing the victory with, natch, a drop goal. Only this time Jones was in charge of the Aussies.

It was a humbling experience that, like that day in Welford Road, infuses his current approach with an England side which he hopes will mirror that resourceful and remorseless 2003 juggernaut. Since then, he has proved adaptable - his subtle attacking ploys aiding South Africa's 2007 World Cup success, his deft cloth-cutting mastering Japan's coup against the Boks only last autumn.

After the meek Stuart Lancaster era, Jones is making arrogance sexy again; crowing his side's favouritism against Scotland, demanding that his side give Italy a "good hiding".

He will not let Ireland's status as defending champions deter him; last week he launched an "Aussie Rules" barb at Joe Schmidt and he aggressively upped the ante yesterday.

Last week, he got his stats wrong when goading Ireland's kicking game; undeterred, he was even more inaccurate yesterday as he launched another machine gun assault.

"They kick 70pc of their ball away," he said. The actual figure is rather less than that; 24pc against France, 23pc against Wales. England, in contrast, kicked 41 times against Scotland (36pc) and the numbers were 36 times (36pc) versus Italy.

Jones, like Schmidt, is a former school teacher, but not of mathematics clearly or else he disregards facts getting in the way of a good punchline.

"If they want to do that, good luck to them," he continued. "It has worked for them. It is not the way I think you should play rugby but it has been successful for them, so good luck."

This from someone described as "robotic" by - who else? - Campese, who suggested that England may win games but they will not entertain. Jones just wants to win.

"I was interested to read that we are a disappointment because we haven't played any expansive rugby," says Jones. "We've been together four weeks.

"There must be some magic dust out there; I need to buy some. Spray it out there and the whole side changes. Look, I think we're going in the right direction.


"I am really pleased how the players are working, very pleased with their commitment, with the way they are taking initiative and being independent, working hard on their game. I couldn't be more pleased. But we are a work in progress.

"The end destination for us is 2019, that's where I expect us to be at our absolute best. That's not to say we can't be good enough to win tournaments and Test matches along the way. That's our aim.

"I am not here to change English rugby," he says. "I am here to coach the national team."

And yet the culture must change; in his mind, culture directly influences performance.

One of his first acts as coach was to remove an Arnold Schwarzenegger quote from squad HQ.

"Your struggles reveal your strengths" is not part of the culture Jones wants with England.

He may yet pin up another Arnie quote instead if England's chariot rumbles on. "Failure is not an option."

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