Tag Archives: Eddie Jones

Eddie Jones Not the Villain

The treatment of Eddie Jones by a selection of rugby fans following his team’s defeat to Scotland has rightly received a lot of attention.

Having amicably agreed to selfie requests, I can’t imagine he then expected to be on the end of name-calling, shoving, and general intimidation.

Once the incident became public, it was pleasing to see the response from the majority of the rugby community. Most fans from all countries were wholly critical of the incident, with the Scottish Rugby Union issuing the following:

Scottish Rugby is appalled by the verbal abuse suffered by Eddie Jones. The disgusting behaviour of those involved does not represent the values of our sport or its fans. The dignity Eddie and the England team showed on Saturday is in stark contrast to this ugly incident.”

How did we get to the stage where Jones had to endure this incident though?

Well, Jones finds himself in the position of being an Australian, coaching England. It’s fair to say that isn’t a combination that will produce much goodwill from opposition fans. Generally, few England coaches find themselves “popular” outside England.

Stuart Lancaster, the last England coach, may have been an exception in fairness. A quiet, unassuming almost studious man seemed to find himself in the position of PR Exec for the RFU as much as Head Coach.  (Of course his main aim was producing results, especially as he found himself the coach of England leading into a Home World Cup.)

When he took over following England’s exit from the ‘11 World Cup, it was clear that Lancaster was intent on improving the image and culture of the team. When a team isn’t playing well, drunken exploits such as a night out on the lash at a dwarf tossing venue, and an unauthorised drunken swim in Auckland Harbour, don’t give the right impression.

A poor display at the tournament, and the perception that the team were aloof from the public and press all needed to be addressed. Unfortunately, it was felt that this all came at the expense of on-field performance, and a second disastrous World Cup followed. Cue an early departure for Lancaster and ridicule from non-England fans.

Lancaster also tried to dispense with the idea that England were arrogant. It worked, to an extent. But England are never more “popular” outside England than when they are losing. However hard anyone tries, there are always those that will see them as arrogant.

When Jones took over, he fundamentally stated that he didn’t care about their image in that respect. He wanted them to win. He wanted that swagger to return. And he has been successful at that aim too. He has won 24 games and lost only 2.

With that returned the “arrogant” English tag. You could feel the hackles of the England bashers rising with every win. Indeed, those who dislike them could barely bring themselves to commend them at all. You got the sense that most of those wins were seen as “flukes” by some – and Jones sensed there was some of that in the press too.

It’s not been all plain sailing for him though. And it’s possible that he has become his own worst enemy in a sense. Cast your mind back to February 2016 and a massive game between England and Ireland at Twickenham.

I’d just be worried about his welfare if he’s had whiplash injuries,” said Jones, who also suggested Sexton’s parents should be concerned by his current situation. “I’m sure his mother and father would be worried about that. If you’re saying a guy has got whiplash then he’s had a severe trauma.

“Maybe they used the wrong term but if you’ve had severe trauma then you’ve got to worry about the welfare of the player. Hopefully, the lad’s all right on Saturday to play.”

There was uproar following those comments. Jones was labelled with all sorts of names. “How dare he question a player’s fitness in that way? How dare he question the work of the Ireland medical staff? What right has he to bring his family into this, they must be angry/worried/disgusted?”

Fair comments in a sense. But you get the impression that there is always going to be a greater backlash if an England Head Coach comes out with anything that isn’t polite/grey/downright boring.

In the same press conference, he raised a spectre that would return this year.

“We target players all the time … that’s part of rugby is it not?” said Jones. “Are we supposed to not run at one player? Is there some sort of special law? Hang on, hang on, he’s got a red dot on his head.

I’m not saying Sexton is a weak defender … [but] we’re going to be targeting players in the Ireland side. Why would we run at the strongest defender? We want to win and you win a game of rugby by attacking their weak points.

To say that’s unfair is just ridiculous. It’s been happening since Adam and Eve were around. You think they’re not going to send [Robbie] Henshaw at George Ford at the weekend? Give me a break.”

That idea of a player being targeted was out there in spades this year before England met Wales at Twickenham. This time it was used in relation to Rhys Patchell, the young Scarlets fly-half who was to play in his first England Wales game, after only 6 previous appearances.

“And for young guys like Rhys Patchell playing in front of that sort of crowd with guys like Simmonds, Robshaw and Farrell running at him, it’s going to be a hell of an experience for the kid. So I hope he has got the bottle to handle it.

He hasn’t played much Test Rugby. He is a young guy, he’s inexperienced, he is their third choice 10. He has got to get the ball wide for them and that’s going to be a big job for him. He has got to find guys willing to help him, because he is going to be under some heat.”

There are two ways of looking at these types of soundbites. The common response is to say there is no place for them in the game. We don’t need to listen to things such as this, or Jones’ suggestion that the Senior Players would come down to breakfast wondering whether a young player was capable of dealing with the pressure, as Jones later suggested. Or other instances of “poor form” from him.

Or we take them as they are meant. Throughout rugby circles across the World this is the sort of thing that is thought and said in the lead up to a big game.

Instead of regarding them as an “attack” on a player, as some do, they should be seen as an insight. A view into the minds of those involved.

Jones was perfectly right in his assertion that Patchell would be a target – that wasn’t an insult. Jonny Sexton was in the same boat. What is often forgotten is that this isn’t a friendly knock about on a local Rec. This is International Sport. Teams want to win. They will be ruthless. They will look to exploit weakness. And it’s not a crime to hear them express the nitty gritty of their sport either.

And coaches aren’t in their jobs to be pleasant. In the modern world, where people want to feel a part of what is going on, this is where we are.  No unwritten “gentleman’s” law that says you can’t be honest was broken.

Jones’ “fault” is that he is a winner, coaching England. And it’s an unshakeable truth that winners aren’t really appreciated in the Northern Hemisphere. We’d far rather see “effort” and the pain of defeat, than the all-out commitment it takes to not just take part, but to go the distance and win.

I would suggest that instead of waiting for winners to lose, as has been the case with Jones since he took over, we appreciate that there is the potential for this coach and team to do great things, and to watch the story unfold.

And we also need to re-evaluate how we participate in social media too. Do we want that instant access to those involved in the sports we love? Do we want to be a part of the experience, with everything that entails?  In the days where blanket coverage wasn’t the norm, things were still said, but there were only so many outlets to dissect and project their opinions onto them.

These are human beings after all, not robots. Yes, there are some coaches who are grey, who would rather come out with grey statements that don’t cause controversy.   And they have their place, some are even successful.

The press are the same. They want these press conferences to throw up surprises – it makes their job easier. When they come though, care needs to be taken how they are reported. What Jones said about Patchell wasn’t an attack. He wasn’t accused of “having no bottle”. There was no arrogance in what Jones said.

Perhaps it may be time for press conferences to be curtailed so that the controversy created is kept to a minimum.

Whatever the future, none of what Jones has said over the last 2 years was a reason for the terrible behaviour of these fans. His nationality or who he coaches should not have been the cause either.

Teams are there to be shot down, and when big teams lose there is a cause for celebration. Importantly, winning gracefully is something that needs to be learned too.

I have sympathy for Jones and I hope that he continues to do what he does as well as he does. I hope this is a reminder that the media and those on forums such as Facebook and Twitter can approach “fandom” in a more measured manner.

I won’t hold my breath, I fear this sort of thing will be on the rise.

 

 

 

 

 

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SIX NATIONS PREVIEW PART 2: ENGLAND

Stuart Lancaster file photo
Lancaster was never able to quite hit the heights

Near the top of the list for many successful coaches , especially here in the Northern Hemisphere, is the conundrum of how to handle expectation. The favourites tag hangs heavy on many a team, and it could be said, none more so than the England team coached by Stuart Lancaster.

The most momentous result in English Rugby’s history is still fairly fresh in the memory. Indeed, England’s World Cup win in 2003, preceded by a Six Nations Grand Slam, attracted many new fans to the sport in England, and heightened expectation for all future teams and coaches.  “Do it once and you can do it again, and again,” or so it’s believed.

In truth, that team coached by Sir Clive Woodward was ground breaking.  However, he probably totally messed it up for future coaches – a common theme of mine is many NH teams don’t take to winning well.  It seems to be tough for those other than the very best to know that when you are at the top you cant stand still, you have to keep evolving.

That level of expectation was a problem for all Sir Clive’s predecessors and was still being felt when, under the radar somewhat, and to the protestations of many, Stuart Lancaster took over as caretaker coach for the 2012 Six Nations.

Results didn’t meet expectations

The Six Nations is unique in the way the tournament is set up.  There isn’t a home and away format.  There is an uneven spread of matches – one year it’s 3 home games and two away, and the next vice versa.  Coaches know how the games fall each year – for instance Wales have the teams in Blue all either at home or away, with England and Ireland fulfilling the opposite fixtures, and its always been so.

With the exception of Wales in 2012, the games that Lancaster’s England lost were all games away from home. In the proceeding 3 years, Wales (Round 5), France (Round 2) and Ireland (Round 3) all beat England at times when expectation was high or just when momentum was gathering.

4 years as Runners Up for England in this tournament didn’t really meet expectations – still high some nine years and more after November 2003. In the three Autumn Series under Lancaster he had recorded a huge win vs New Zealand in 2012, and two wins vs Australia.  On Summer tours, the only win recorded was on the Lions’ decimated tour of Argentina in 2013.

A 2-0 loss to South Africa and a 3-0 loss to New Zealand were tales of “what could have been,” with the draw in South Africa in 2013 painting a picture of false hope.

World Cup Woe and a New Coach

 

France v England - 2016 RBS Six Nations - Stade de France
Sorely missed centre Manu Tuilagi

All of this doom and gloom, and no mention of the 2015 World Cup? England entered that competition in fairly good shape.  Of course, it was described as “their World Cup” – it was on home soil, and consequently, many thought it was theirs to win too.

In England’s group, were Wales and Australia.   England had beaten Wales in the 2014 and 2015 Six Nations.  They had beaten Australia in the 2013 and 2014 Autumn series.  But really the build-up to the tournament wasn’t great.

There was no real succession planning for the injury prone Manu Tuilagi – a barnstorming centre who had torn the All Blacks to shreds in 2012.  England had used many different centre combinations, without settling on a steady combination, with injuries and form of the alternatives being a grave concern.

Chris Robshaw’s position at 7 was a real cause for debate.  As is usual, the British Press had begun to obsess about the concept of a “genuine 7” a guy who was strong over the ball, a carrier and a link between forwards and backs.  Lancaster had firmly nailed his colours to the mast and said that his captain was his 7, was more than capable of playing the role and would remain at 7 come what may,

On top of that, Graham Rowntree had come out and said he was coach of a “World Class Pack” but was looking to improve their all round ability with ball in hand.  The bench-mark from which he was working was the All Black forwards who were capable of Harlem Globetrotter-esque skills on times in some eyes. That was a mistake.

Throw into the mix the selection of Sam Burgess, cross-code convert who had been bought by Bath, but who was considered a back row player by his club, but a midfield star by England and the signs weren’t great.

History Maker

The rest they say is history.  Roll forward to November 2015 and England appoint their first foreign coach in Eddie Jones.  And what a success he has made of the job so far. England’s last World Cup game was against Uruguay, and a resounding 60-3 victory, heralding the beginning of 14 games unbeaten, the next 13 of them under Eddie Jones.

2017 RBS 6 Nations Package
Few would have imagined this picture after England’s 2015 or the follow up

He’s quite obviously not everyone’s cup of tea for sure.  And most certainly he hasn’t yet turned England into world beaters.  But, even the most bitter non-England fan can only stand back and admire his achievements. A resounding Grand Slam – the first in 13 years at the first attempt.  A 3-0 series win against Australia, in Australia.

A 4 wins from 4 Autumn series win – with victories against Australia and South Africa,  and against Argentina, playing with 14 men for much of the game.  All on the back of a pretty awful 2015 season.

What has been striking about his time in charge is his desire not to allow the team to get ahead of themselves. After every milestone, there was no looking back, only forward.  No real celebrations, although I’m sure they enjoyed the occasion.  The Australian tour, the same. (I would say that was tarnished by some unsavoury sparring with Australian coach Michael Cheika – but stoked by some pretty unsavoury “plants” at press conferences by the Australian media too.)


Forwards

Nathan Catt (Bath Rugby), Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers), Charlie Ewels (Bath Rugby), Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers), Jamie George (Saracens), Teimana Harrison (Northampton Saints), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), James Haskell (Wasps), Nathan Hughes (Wasps), Maro Itoje (Saracens), George Kruis (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints), Joe Marler (Harlequins), Matt Mullan (Wasps), Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins), Tommy Taylor (Wasps), Mike Williams (Leicester Tigers), Tom Wood (Northampton Saints).

Backs

Mike Brown (Harlequins), Danny Care (Harlequins), Elliot Daly (Wasps), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Bath Rugby), Jonathan Joseph (Bath Rugby), Alex Lozowski (Saracens), Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs), Ben Te’o (Worcester Warriors), Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby), Marland Yarde (Harlequins), Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers).


Resurgent England

What’s also impressive is how the bones of the squad picked by Lancaster at the World Cup and the Six Nations Squad picked by Jones is similar too.  Of the 34 picked for this Six Nations, half were in the World Cup Squad. At least three more, in the Vunipola Brothers and Chris Robshaw would have been selected too, barring injury.

As I mentioned yesterday, Jones’ emphasis currently is on establishing a platform – effective and powerful scrum, lineout and defence are crucial to any successful team.  Back to the All Blacks once more, but at the heart of their success has been a decent platform in these areas.  Not wholly so, especially recently, as they have, in truth, become a counter-attacking team in many ways, feeding off turnovers and errors in the opposition, but it’s still a major part of their game.

As I also mentioned, this is a particularly English mentality.  This is not to say that it makes a team boring,  Far from it.  Being confident in your team’s ability to win your lineouts, especially at crucial phases of the game, is a beautiful thing.  Knowing that your team is confident at scrum time, and is even capable of disrupting the opposition scrum, often regularly, equally so.

But apparently, this is a fact not to the liking of Lions’ legend Jim Telfer, who has become the vox box of foolishness in recent times.  A quick google of his pronouncements, especially at this time of yearprovides painful reading, though. Just have a read of this little nugget.

“Eddie Jones doesn’t want to beat teams, he wants to demolish them, which I find a bit disappointing,” Telfer told BBC Sport. “To me he’s building his whole team on set piece and the building of the attack comes secondary.”

Of course, England aren’t purring in attack at the moment, but this gem contradicts everything Jones has said recently.  It raises some serious questions about Telfer’s mindset too.  I’ve never known a team approach an opposition by saying “let’s go easy on these folks, we don’t want to hurt their feelings. Give ’em a chance at scrum time, otherwise we might overwhelm them.  We can’t have that”

One might want to look at his coaching philosophy when on the ’97 Lions’ tour too.  Total opposite to the above.  He picked a pack to ask questions of “the manhood” of the South African forwards his winning team faced.

We all know the motivation for his rant – a proud Scotsman facing an English side on the up once more. Say no more though, read the article and bin it as utter nonsense.  He has previous and doesn’t do himself any justice here.

This is what Europe and the Rugby World are facing once more.  The prospect of an England team capable of challenging the very best. I think that really scares people and the old prejudices rise to the surface when that happens.

It’s obvious that the coach is in the heads of the players he has selected.  England will face challenges along the way – first up France, then Wales at home.  But they aren’t insurmountable, especially for a side that has won 3 on the bounce in Australia.  That’s the way Woodward built his sides – taking  them to places they had never been before, and winning, so those more familiar challenges lost some of their fear and became the norm.

We’ve certainly been along this road before with England sides of recent memory – built up in the media only to stumble, but for me there is a different feel to this side. It has the feel of winners.  I may well be proved wrong as early as Saturday evening, who knows.  But for those who enjoy England falling flat on their face, preparations should be made for a difficult 7 weeks.

Winning that “Grand Slam” decider on the last Saturday may well be a step too far.  Record breaking occasions – England could well beat the record for most consecutive wins for the Top Nations – are notoriously difficult to negotiate.  I wouldn’t put it past them though.

 

 

Why Should Hopes be High for England Rugby?

A 6 Nations title should always be celebrated, a Grand Slam even more so.  England’s first Grand Slam since 2003, and only their second Championship in that time has understandably brought some extra rugby coverage in the National Press.  Forget the  supposed”paucity” of this season’s championship, 5 games, 5 wins is what rugby is all about.  It’s a business all about winning.

The engaging thing for me is not so much the team, as good as they may turn out to be, but the man who has come in to lead them, after a disappointing 4 years under Stuart Lancaster.

Eddie Jones, the coach who nearly stole Sir Clive Woodward’s thunder in 2003, has transformed opinions, feelings and outlook about and in, what is pretty much the same group of players that failed to perform at England 2015.

Not scared of a word or two, whoever he may upset, he’s not so much a breath of fresh air for Northern Hemisphere Rugby – many don’t like his outspoken attitude.  He does however bring a very different outlook to a set-up that had become almost too “touchy-feely” in its approach.

Martin Johnson seemed to lead a team that forgot about the privilege of representing their country in this great sport, whilst Stuart Lancaster’s approach was as diverse as you could possibly imagine.  It was all about image, it seemed for Lancaster, whilst the business of winning rugby matches seemed to be lost in the clamour for the right culture.

Jones on the other hand, has taken a different path.  That honour is at the forefront of all he does.  He appears to appreciate the responsibility and all that comes with it, as well as knowing that ultimately, nice guys usually come last.

There’s a huge irony for me, that it appears to have taken an Australian to point the English Rugby team in the right direction.  Perhaps, an Australian without the close connection to the last truly successful English coach would not have been able to get the team back on what seems to be approaching an even keel, but it’s such a wonderful meeting of opposites.

Then again, Australians are natural winners and it’s that ethos that needs instilling into rugby in Britain & Ireland.  You would hope that there isn’t a huge gap between “us and them” in the Southern Hemisphere.  Identifying where possible shortfalls may be, is the beginning of the job.

In Paul Rees’ article in The Observer last Sunday, Jones identified where he thought there was a shortfall.  He praised the professionalism of the English clubs but added

“…there is another part which is that highly unstructured, multi-phase, ball moving, continuous rugby. You can’t expect English clubs to condition their players for that, because they don’t need to be good at that. That’s the bit we need to add when we get them. It’s not a criticism of the clubs; it’s about what they’ve got to do and what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to use every minute when we are in camp to get the players to play a different sort of rugby.” 

Now, that isn’t rocket science is it?  Compare the approach of Wales to that ethos.  Up until recently, the successful blueprint in European Rugby was the one used by Wales.  Win the collisions, pay lip service to the set-piece, and kick the leather off the ball.

Interestingly enough, following these words from Eddie Jones, Warren Gatland today declared that his team had to lose weight. In a Wales on Line article penned by Andy Howell, Dan Lydiate declared that:

“if you’re lighter, you can get of the deck quicker.  When you are playing at a high tempo, you can’t afford to be carrying excess weight.”

A coincidence maybe?  A recognition from the Welsh management that there will be a change of approach? Well, the gist of the article was that one or two kilos could be the difference in these close games.  Lydiate’s assertion that he is 5lbs lighter than last year, 17st9lb, rather than 18st, tends to show where the Welsh mindset really is.

Eddie Jones’ approach, while putting an emphasis on fitness himself, is to use the physical nature of his players as part of a wider picture. You only have to look at the first half of the game against Wales in the 6 Nations.  Sean Edwards’ assertion that “he couldn’t get his head round” how Wales lost the game after outscoring England three tries to one, was possibly one of the silliest things I’ve heard.

The tactical nous shown by his team was actually a joy to behold.  Taking the game away from Wales’ big men, utilising the blind-side in attack, recycling quickly, organising his strike runners on the hoof.  Everything Wales have seemingly struggled to do in recent times.

Of course, the scoreline didn’t reflect the panning the first half suggested was on the way.  4 points was not a hiding, and as any real rugby fan knows, the game is an 80 minute contest, not one involving microcosms.  The challenge awaiting England in the summer in Australia is far greater than what they have met so far.

However, the signs are there for a bright future. World Cup winners?  That’s a long way off. There’s one guarantee though.  Eddie Jones won’t tolerate mediocrity.  Play your best and lose, you may be forgiven.  Any slacking off will be unforgiveable though.

As James Haskell, in a somewhat self-promoting interview in the Guardian with Donald Mcrae on Monday put it, Eddie Jones is like a “bomb waiting to go off.”  He’s also a “people person,” a man manager who attempts to get into the psyche of the players he coaches.  The work he did with Japan proves that beyond a doubt.  By looking at the assets he had, and how best to utilise them, he produced one of the greatest results in  the history of the game.

Different coaches have different methods to achieve the end result.  He may not turn out to be the real deal – or should I say, might not get England to be that.  But, step one of his journey is complete.  His warning to players, mind games they may have been, shows that there will be no resting on laurels.  My pre Six Nations prediction of an England Grand Slam turned out to be correct.

There’s a new sheriff in town now though.  The likes of Gatland and Schmidt may not be at the squeaky bum time stage yet, nor those Down Under, but this next year or two may see a shift in power, not just up here in the Northern Hemisphere, but down South too.