Innovator and motivator, England's Jones leaves no stone unturned

Innovator and motivator, England's Jones leaves no stone unturned
By Reuters

12/09/2019 at 07:00Updated 12/09/2019 at 07:02

By Mitch Phillips

LONDON, Sept 12 (Reuters) - England coach Eddie Jones can be warm, charming, engaging, witty and also willing to share his immense rugby insights when it suits his purpose to do so.

The Australian can also be as stubborn as a mule and once he makes his mind up about a player, he rarely changes it -- as Alex Goode, Danny Cipriani and many others routinely delivering man of the match performances for their clubs but left in the international wilderness have found to their cost.

His insistence on describing replacements as "finishers" is widely mocked but Jones really does believe a match is won by 23 players rather than 15 and that some better suit the early stages and some thrive later and he has little patience with anyone who dares question that view.

The 59-year-old Jones makes no secret of the fact that he sees the media as just another tool in his armoury to improve his team's chances of success and is spectacularly unconcerned about criticism of his selections.

He usually explains his choices by saying, "You're not seeing what I'm seeing day in day out in camp," and loves an analogy to help the hapless hacks see the light.

In the first months of his England tenure, when press and public demanded the inclusion of tyro lock Maro Itoje, Jones warned that the then-21-year-old was still at the Vauxhall Viva stage and needed to be a BMW before earning a starting berth.

A bemused Itoje said he had to do a Google search to discover that the Viva was a particularly unremarkable 1970s small family saloon, but weeks later he was in the Six Nations starting team and has not looked back.

During that same 2016 Six Nations Jones raised eyebrows -- and some southern hemisphere hackles -- by suggesting Billy Vunipola could be the best number eight in the world. It seemed fanciful at the time but, three years on, he just might be.

"As a coach one of your jobs is to give them dreams," Jones said at the time. Vunipola added: "I respond more to the love and compassion he shows the boys, me especially. He has just filled me with confidence and that is something I thrive on. I just need someone to reassure me and look after me."

That is not a side of Jones's persona that the former roughhouse hooker likes to promote but, behind closed doors, he is clearly a master motivator.

RUGBY SHOCKS

That ability to inspire -- alongside implementing a meticulously researched game plan -- was at its most tangible when his Japan team pulled off one of the all-time rugby shocks by beating South Africa in the 2015 World Cup.

Previously, Jones had been an assistant with the Springboks when they triumphed in 2007, having seen his Australia team come up agonisingly short against England four years earlier.

Now he is devoting his famously exhausting work ethic to England -- saying on the day he took over from Stuart Lancaster after the 2015 failure that his entire focus was on winning the 2019 tournament.

If people thought England coach Clive Woodward's preparations were meticulous in 2003, Jones has taken things to a new level as he has brought in countless external advisors, experts and motivators -- from within rugby and without -- and driven RFU staff to exhaustion with his demands.

He has made the squad operate on short turnarounds, hop between training bases and has even introduced a deliberately late stadium arrival to replicate known and possible scenarios in Japan.

Unsurprisingly, he has also applied that same forensic approach to what is happening on the pitch -- constantly trying to adapt personnel and tactics to stay up with the ever-changing interpretation of the laws by referees and the world governing body.

When he had only two warm-up games left in which to tinker, Jones took the radical approach of playing twin opensides Tom Curry and Sam Underhill against Ireland -- with great success as it turned out.

"There is a lot more contest in the breakdown now. The tackler is being allowed to stay in the tackle which means the ability to poach has increased and so I think that this is definitely potentially an option for us," he explained.

"It is all having different ways to play and we need to be prepared for everything at a World Cup." (Reporting by Mitch Phillips, Editing by Ken Ferris)

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