‘SA players can be skilful’

Eddie Jones says he learned a lot as a coach in Japan, and hopes to be able to put certain similarly successful processes in place at the Stormers, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Jones transformed an unheralded Japanese side into a competitive force at the World Cup, guiding the Brave Blossoms to a historic win over the Springboks in the first of three victories at the global event.

‘My time in Japan was exciting because it was about taking a side that had been a joke team, and trying to make them into a proper rugby team. So I had to change the culture, the mindset and the playing style,’ he told SARugbymag.co.za.

‘I learned a lot about coaching in those four years, and coming to the Stormers, I’m not making any judgements on what has happened in the past. We’ve got a new, young squad, and we’ve got a chance to build the right culture for them, the right mindset and the right playing style, as was the case in Japan. I’ve learned a lot about the processes that have to be put in place to get all that right.’

Jones has spoken of adding a new attacking dimension to the Stormers’ play, and said he believed that players’ skills could be honed to ensure a high-tempo, attractive brand of rugby.

‘No one is naturally skilful, everyone is coached or taught to be skilful. There is no reason why South African players can’t be skilful, but we have to coach that. That’s where we’ll start from day one. The greatest two examples are Ma’a Nonu and Schalk Burger. At the beginning, Ma’a was a crash 'em-smash 'em inside centre, but by the end of his career he could kick to space, throw left and right hand passes. Schalk’s the same, he was the South African version of Richie McCaw, and now he’s one of the most skilful flankers in the game.’

Having worked as a consultant during the Boks’ successful 2007 World Cup campaign, Jones said that had also been an enlightening experience.

‘One of the things that struck me during the 2007 campaign was just how coachable the players were. They had a real desire to learn, and that’s what we want to create at the Stormers: a learning environment. We want players who are thirsty for knowledge, and who want to improve.

'Sometimes in South Africa I think there has been a tendency for players to be pigeonholed, where they’re labelled as someone who can’t pass, or can’t do something or other. They then get rid of that player rather than working with him to try and make him get better. In Japan, we had a very small pool of players, so we had to work with who we had and to help them improve.’

Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

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Craig Lewis