The Springboks have been warned that one of the most astute coaches in the game is plotting their downfall, writes MARK KEOHANE.
England’s rugby redeemer Eddie Jones wants the Springboks’ head again – a year after he got it as coach of Japan in the greatest upset in the history of the Rugby World Cup.
The form and good fortune of England point to Jones adding to the misery of Springbok coach Allister Coetzee at Twickenham this Saturday.
Coetzee, as assistant coach to the 2007 World Cup-winning Springboks, has always spoken of Jones’s inspiration during that time. Jones, Bok foe when still the Wallabies coach, turned Bok friend as the 2007 World Cup squad’s specialist technical adviser.
There was – and is – an awe when Coetzee speaks of Jones’s rugby insights and mind as a strategist. In 2007 Jones was the master and Coetzee the student. Nearly 10 years on, little has changed.
Jones is living it large in his first year of coaching England – a rugby job he publicly described as the dream job. He believes England should be the best in the world because of playing numbers and infrastructure. He believes their club Premiership is the toughest in the world. He believes England should win the Six Nations every year, that they should always be the favourites when playing at Twickenham, and always have a winning chance when playing New Zealand.
Jones has already cautioned the All Blacks that England are coming for their crown as the game’s best. Now he wants the Springboks, a year after having their head as head coach of Japan.
Jones loves South African rugby because of its status as a national sport. The culture and history of the sport in South Africa dovetails with a psyche that thinks about rugby every waking moment.
He will tell you rugby is his passion, his obsession and his life. His critics claim this intensity will be his downfall as England coach. Those who favour Jones say it is what defines him as technically the best coach in the game.
When England stuttered past Scotland in Jones’s first game in charge, I messaged 2007 World Cup-winning Bok coach Jake White that it wasn’t a very impressive start.
White, a good friend and coaching ally of Jones, responded that England would win the Six Nations and the series against the Wallabies in Australia.
‘They will only get better as they win more. He will instil a winning habit. He’ll teach them how to win again before you see any elaborate change in style. Once he’s done that, he will evolve the rugby philosophy,’ was White’s response. ‘Eddie will win more with England than he will lose. He will add steel and resolve to England rugby.’
White insisted there was a Jones persona for press conferences and one for the training field and change room.
‘He’ll play all the mind games with the opposition coaches and the media. He loves that aspect of the game, but the man on the training field is different in his focus to specifics of his team and in detail about the opposition.’
It doesn’t surprise White that Jones has already labelled the Springboks as bullies and zoned in on a perceived belief that the Boks offer only physical intimidation and no skill factor.
‘He’ll want the Boks to go away from physicality. He’ll attempt to talk them into playing a game that detracts from their core strength. Eddie is a big fan of South African rugby and I know he loved his time with the Boks.
‘He knows the physicality of Bok rugby is our greatest strength, but he also knows how fragile and insecure we can be when it comes to our skill level and ball-in-hand capabilities. Know that, he will concentrate all his media talk on casting more doubt on the skills and insecurities of a team that has struggled all season.
‘The Boks must simply be true to themselves and those attributes that are a strength of Bok rugby – and always have been. They need to know they will have to be at their peak physically and be conditioned to play for 80 minutes. It’s going to be brutal,’ said White.
Jones has already alluded to a physical war with the Springboks and his players have added to this by saying Jones has been emphatic that the only non-negotiable is that his players meet the physical challenge of the Boks and the rest will follow.
England captain Dylan Hartley has said the moment the Australia series was over, Jones switched his focus to the Springboks. In media interviews Hartley said Jones reminded every one of the England players they’d never beaten the Springboks in a Test. He’s challenged the players as to why and told them he refused to believe England should be second to any team, including the All Blacks.
– This column first appeared in the November edition of SA Rugby magazine