Eddie Jones has the ability to transform the Stormers into a less predictable and ultimately more dangerous unit, writes JON CARDINELLI.
On Tuesday, Jones confirmed he is in talks with the Stormers about a move to Cape Town ahead of the 2016 Vodacom Super Rugby season. The Cape side has been searching for a new head coach since it was announced at the start of the year that Allister Coetzee would be leaving the franchise.
In February, it was rumoured that Jones was the favourite to succeed Coetzee. At the time, Jones rubbished the reports. He explained that he was committed to his role as Japan's director of rugby until after the 2019 World Cup, which will be staged in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Jones was also expected to coach the new Japanese franchise in the inaugural 18-team Super Rugby tournament next season. At the time of the initial rumour, a move to the Stormers seemed impossible.
However, the latest reports from Japan indicate that the new team has battled to contract players. On Tuesday, Kyodo News reported that just five players have signed to the fledgling franchise, and that the naming of the team has been pushed back to late August/early September. If the situation does not improve, there is a possibility that Japan will lose the franchise.
This may present the Stormers, who are desperate to nail down a head coach, with an opportunity.
In a sense, the Cape side has been looking for a heavyweight coach for the past three years. Rassie Erasmus, one of the most respected rugby brains on the planet, resigned in early 2012.
With Coetzee alone at the helm, the Stormers won two conference titles in 2012 and 2015, but fell short on the two occasions they progressed to the play-offs. It's been clear for the past three-and-a-half years that the Stormers have lacked an X factor on the field and in the coaching box.
Jones has a reputation for thinking outside the box. He coached the Brumbies to the Super 12 title in 2001, and the Wallabies to Tri-Nations glory in the same year. While Australia finished the 2003 World Cup as runners-up, Jones earned a winner's medal as technical advisor to the all-conquering Springboks four years later. Then coach Jake White said that Jones's input made a profound difference to the way the Boks played at the 2007 tournament.
Gert Smal has done some good things since his appointment as Western Province's director of rugby in May 2014. Apart from targeting some big-name players in key positions, he has sought to bolster the coaching staff.
Vlok Cilliers, who enjoyed a lot of success as the Bulls' kicking coach during the 2000s, was brought into the mix. Smal sees great potential in Paul Treu, the former Springbok Sevens coach who has been recruited to WP to transform the team's defence.
What is still missing, however, is a big-name head coach who can bring it all together and perhaps inject some inspiration into a set-up that has been devoid of it for too long.
Of course, if Jones was to accept the position of head coach, he would face a number of challenges unique to South African rugby and the Western Cape itself. Transformation will factor into team selections. The infamous politics of Western Cape rugby that contributed to Erasmus's resignation in 2012 will provide another headache.
Then there is the fact that Jones intends to juggle his existing role as Japan's director of rugby with the new job at the Stormers. We saw earlier this year how Gary Gold battled to catch up at the Sharks after spending the Japanese season with the Kobelco Steelers. Coaching two teams at once sounds like a bad idea, especially since the teams in question are nearly 15,000km apart.
If it was just a question of the rugby, then the decision would be a no-brainer. If Jones and the Stormers could agree to the terms of a two-year deal, the team would move forward during that period.
Big-name players would flock to the franchise for an opportunity to work under a coach of Jones's experience and expertise. The existing coaching staff at the Stormers would also learn a great deal from working alongside a man who has enjoyed success at every level of the game.
It will be interesting to see if the Stormers can pin down Jones in the next week or so. It will also be interesting to see whether they can make this move work.
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