No one has ever accused Eddie Jones of not delivering value for money.
He is a workaholic. A string of burnt-out assistant coaches attests to that. If it wasn’t long hours spent on the training field, it was long hours spent at the computer doing analysis, often until the wee small hours. Keeping up with the Joneses took its toll. Still does, judging from the recent attrition rate.
Eddie Jones says there's still plenty of talent coming through the ranks of Australian rugby - it's just a matter of utilising it.
Spare a thought for Dan McKellar, who gave up a prestigious head coaching job at the Brumbies to become an assistant coach to Dave Rennie — all with a view to becoming Wallabies head coach post-2023. Now, his plans — along with Rennie’s - have been entirely scuttled by Rugby Australia. How will he fare under Jones?
But the flipside of Jones’ propensity to work hard is his ability to pick up on almost imperceptible weaknesses in the opposition. The Wallabies weren’t certain what to expect when they filed into their old team room for their first debriefing session of 2004. The pain of their extra-time defeat to England in the 2003 World Cup final a few months earlier still burned fiercely. Certainly, they were taken aback when they realised that what awaiting them was a life-size photo of England lock Ben Kay outjumping the Wallabies by about 10cm in a crucial lineout.
“That’s the difference,” Jones had told them, pointing to the picture. "That’s why we lost.”
Of itself, there was nothing particularly significant about that lineout. But it was one small England success within a litany of other small English wins. Collectively, they made possible a fabled victory for the ages. Much as Jones bridled at that defeat, especially losing to his great nemesis, Clive Woodward, he was astute enough to recognise the lessons of that lineout and incorporate the “small margins” factor into his future coaching.
It would have been hard to top Japan’s 34-32 win over the Springboks in Brighton during the 2015 World Cup as the highlight of Jones’ career. But that was a win the Brave Blossoms had rehearsed for months, as Jones drilled them to counter everything South Africa attempted.
Not so outlandish perhaps but arguably more of a rugby statement was England’s 19-7 win over the All Blacks in the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup. England’s ambition beat the Kiwis at their own game. Nor should we forget it was the second stunning upset over New Zealand that Jones’ teams had pulled off, following the Wallabies’ 22-10 win over the men in black in Sydney in 2003. What other coach can boast of two such astonishing feats at the business end of a World Cup?
And now his expertise has been placed at the disposal of Australia following England’s stunning failure to insert a non-compete clause in his termination contract. It may well be that Jones’ Wallabies now will come up against Steve Borthwick’s England in the quarters or semi-finals of this year’s World Cup in France. As England coach, Jones used his inside knowledge to defeat the Wallabies in nine of their past 10 Tests. Now that shoe will be on the other foot.
Rassie Erasmus and Bernard Laporte aside, there is no more divisive or controversy-plagued figure in world rugby than Jones. He uses that better than almost any of the 13 other men who have coached Australia over the past half-century. But his appointment to the Wallabies for five years comes as a major concern. Jones’ history is of short-term success. The longer one of his coaching gigs lasts, the more erratic it has tended to become.
Jones held his ground and got what he wanted. Save for Michael Cheika, no other coaching candidate ever had Rugby Australia over a barrel as Jones did during the negotiation phase.
Some are hinting RA wanted to limit his contract to 2023 alone, or possibly extend it no further than the 2025 British and Irish Lions series, but that was of no interest to Jones. Completely understandable. He is now 62 and this might be his last professional appointment. No wonder he wanted full measure. Yet even if he refuses to mellow with age, he still needs to become more receptive to others.
It is testimony to Jones’ star appeal that I’ve arrived at the final paragraph before acknowledging Rennie’s fine contribution. I didn’t always agree with his selections and heaven knows Jones will not feel in any way bound by the 44 players Rennie took into camp with him last week. If nothing else, he took the sour lemons of Australia’s massive injury toll and made the sweet lemonade of greater depth. Moreover, he had a vision of the way he wanted Australia to play and went about implementing it with humility and good grace. He deserved far better.
One final thought: RA seemingly took issue with Rennie for telling the media that Jones would play no part in this year’s World Cup campaign. Fair enough. But if they had issues with Rennie for playing media games, they’ve not seen anything yet.