Wednesday 26 June 2019

Tony Ward: 'Jones vs Schmidt battle is like Mourinho vs Guardiola - and it will go down to the wire'

 

Joe Schmidt has won two of the three meetings against Eddie Jones in the Six Nations. Photo by David Rogers/The RFU Collection via Getty Images
Joe Schmidt has won two of the three meetings against Eddie Jones in the Six Nations. Photo by David Rogers/The RFU Collection via Getty Images
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

Joe Schmidt v Eddie Jones; Pep Guardiola v Jose Mourinho. Slight exaggeration perhaps but there are similarities: one the rock of measured sensibility, the other, well, loose with the lip to say the least.

Guardiola would be my preferred football tipple so by extension our man fits that bill and yet if I'm honest I have a soft spot for England's main man too. I may be in the minority but I can live with that. Both are former teachers which I regard as highly significant with Jones an ex-principal and Schmidt an assistant principal in a former life.

There are many qualities demanded of high-class coaches but top of that list, irrespective of the ever-changing game, is the ability to communicate. Not every teacher has it but the majority do given that it is central to the training for any teaching degree.

Both Schmidt and Jones are excellent communicators, albeit with very different takes as to how they go about their rugby business. I am a fully signed-up member of the low-key, respectful Schmidt approach every time and I qualify that by saying that what goes on behind closed doors at in-house meetings is very different to that dished out at PR-perfect press conferences for public consumption.

I would liken the Jones method to that of Mick Doyle back in the day. Doyler loved dropping a few grenades in the build-up to any big game but there was method to his madness by way of shifting the public spotlight and accompanying media pressure from players to coach in the days and hours leading up to kick-off.

It is a philosophy I don't share but I get the rationale and I did back then too.

In Jones, I see a mirror image of Doyle and like Doyler he has a sense of divilment despite the borderline content of some of the comments he makes. He is some seven years older than Schmidt but is not always wiser. But each to their own. Whatever works is the formula to approach the next game.

All is set for a brutish battle with space at a premium and limited point-scoring opportunities

Aside from Steve Hansen, both are at the very top of the tree in terms of achievement. I loathe Mourinho and everything he stands for although I do confess to being in awe once upon a time - specifically when he was first at Chelsea. However, in terms of delivering silverware (although cheque books certainly helped) his record is mighty. The same can be said of Jones but without the cheque book.

Whether with Randwick, the Brumbies or Wallabies in Australia, the Springboks (as assistant coach), in Japan (Suntory Sungoliath or the national team) and in more recent times England (since the 2015 World Cup) his record of achievement is impressive. He has walked the walk every bit as convincingly as he talks the talk.

For Schmidt, a different set of values applies to his personal preparation. He is measured, meticulous and diplomatic to a fault. Where Jones (at a distance anyway) seems to thrive in verbal chaos, Schmidt is the polar opposite in terms of pre-match organisation.

In a professional game, the outcome is nearly always the bottom line but there is only one way to go about things for me and that is the modus operandi of the man from Kawakawa, New Zealand.

Much fine-tuning and countless meetings for both squads will have taken place in the Algarve and Dublin ahead of this evening's heavyweight encounter. All is set for a brutish battle with space at a premium and point-scoring opportunities equally limited.

It smacks of a 'must not lose' even more than a 'must win' for both coaches and squads.

Whichever side can break free of the psychological shackles earlier - and it is very much an either/or encounter despite the ante-post odds favouring Ireland - could squeeze past the finishing line at the death.

To that end, Jones has declared a squad that's not quite fully loaded but as close as doesn't matter with five of the Saracens pack including, most crucially of all, the Vunipola brothers back in harness.

And while I know it never quite turns out that way (with the various intricacies of modern game intervening), but nonetheless the clash between Billy Vunipola and CJ Stander should be fascinating in the extreme.

It is a typically powerful English forward unit if short on experience in the back-row.

In the returning Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade, Jones has his door-breaker alongside his preferred lock-picker in midfield. While the entire back three as well as both haves ooze class, with Owen Farrell every bit as vital to the English cause as is Johnny Sexton to Ireland, possibly even more so. The English bench too, much like Ireland's, is top-heavy in impact but with Courtney Lawes, Nathan Hughes and Chris Ashton the three stand-outs.

It is a physical squad picked to do a physical job. Take that as read. But Ireland are nowadays very far removed from shrinking violets in the face of an English juggernaut.

The selection of Robbie Henshaw at full-back is bold but typical Schmidt based on form in training, logic, needs of the day, plus the bottom-line philosophy to which I adhere of getting your best players on the park whenever possible.

So instead of two from three we have Henshaw, Garry Ringrose and Bundee Aki all on board. Dave Kilcoyne and John Cooney both merit selection in reserve.

Might be the kick of a ball in it but heart and head in tandem rule that it has to be Ireland.

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