There’s nothing conventional about Eddie Jones. Throughout his entire life he has been an outsider, building a wonderful career based on outside odds. Now he finds himself as an outsider in England, looking inwards on English rugby and trying to bring it back up to speed with the rest of the globe.
The half-Japanese, half-Australian found life tough to begin with. Current Australian head coach Michael Cheika, himself half-Lebanese, has revealed that as children they both had racial insults thrown at them (via The Telegraph).
As a player, at just over 12 stone and diminutive in stature, Jones would often come up against players with a colossal weight and size advantage over him, but he was able to combat this with quick-thinking and skills beyond brute force.
And so the outsider from a lowly Australian state school, with a multicultural background and an oddity in the land of rugby’s giants, was able to make it despite everything being stacked against him. He almost played for the Wallabies, but was ignored in favour of Phil Kearns who went on to be one of the country’s great hookers, winning 67 caps.
But this failure only drove Jones onwards. Through coaching he found an outlet to succeed. Approaching games like he did as a player, Jones has always sought to out-think and out-manoeuvre the opposition.
Although his first season in charge of the Brumbies was something of a disaster – the side finishing a lowly 10th out of 12 – within three seasons he led the Super 12 side to their first title, being the first non-New Zealand team to win the tournament.
When taking over from Rod Macqueen as Australia’s head coach, he guided the Wallabies to a World Cup final in 2003, despite meeting favourites New Zealand in the semi-finals. Again, few had expected the men in gold to succeed due to a poor 2002 season and 2003 Tri Nations campaign.
Japan’s shock win over South Africa at the 2015 World Cup was down to Jones’ workaholic nature and his uninhibited ambition. He has repeatedly claimed that Japan too often accepts mediocrity labelled as ‘bravery’ and the Aussie outcast did succeed in bringing Japan in from the cold.
Now that he is England coach, Jones is once again the outsider looking inwards. He has seen the strengths England already has, he knows English rugby is traditionally strong at the set piece and he has worked tirelessly to bring that to the fore again. However, what he has been getting England to do far more is question not just how they are doing something, but why. Quoted by The Guardian, he said:
“If you look at the European Cup final and Super Rugby, they are at different ends in the spectrum of rugby. [The European] final was like a physical game of chess; everything was organised and planned and there was little unstructured rugby. In fact, it was probably zero.
“Super Rugby is 90% unstructured. The best sides are able to play both ways and that is what I am looking for.”
Tactically, England were never really quite sure of themselves under Stuart Lancaster. Sometimes they resorted to ten man rugby, occasionally they tried to play like the All Blacks without any real success, but often the decision-making was quite telling. England’s thinking, or lack of, at the conclusion of the World Cup pool game against Wales is something that will be unheard of in the Eddie Jones era.
Players are now starting to think for themselves in situations across the pitch. There is an obvious structure and gameplan in place, but this gameplan will change depending on how the game is progressing. Each member of the team is beginning to take more responsibility for their own actions and the permutations of their decisions, and it is paying dividends – as witnessed by England’s dismantling of Wales at Twickenham a few weeks ago.
Jones, too, is looking inwards when he selects the likes of Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler. They are players from non-traditional English rugby backgrounds. Instead of middle class comfort, both struggled in their youth, as did Jones. Of Sinckler, Jones said:
“[Sinckler] is from a pretty tough background so rugby means a lot to him and he plays the game for all the right reasons. He loves a sport that helped him get out of a difficult situation and he is a guy who could keep on developing really well.” (via The Guardian)
Likewise, Genge was arrested several times before rugby really got a hold on his life. Jones has already stated that he feels English rugby has got ‘soft’ and needs to harden itself up again. He has brought in these two outsiders to add a little more steel to his squad.
In the coming weeks, Jones finds himself once again an outsider, this time in his homeland. As an Australian coaching an England team against the Wallabies in their own back yard, he is going to be the most unpopular of individuals Down Under. However, it is a situation he will positively wallow in.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena