George Gregan is backing his former Australia coach Eddie Jones to be the character to keep a watch on at the 2019 World Cup.
The pair worked together at the 2003 finals, Jones guiding a Wallabies side that featured Gregan at scrum-half to a final they lost to England in extra-time.
Sixteen years later, Jones is preparing England for the finals in Japan and Gregan believes his former coach will have everything ready despite his side’s poor finish to the Six Nations where they were threw away leads and were beaten by Wales and drew with Scotland.
“I have been watching Eddie Jones and his English squad with a close eye, particularly in the Six Nations and over the last few years,” said Gregan, speaking as a Land Rover ambassador.
“He came to Australia and beat the Wallabies at home in 2016, which is an outstanding effort at the end of a long season. And they have really impressed me in the last 12 to 15 months in their ability to score a lot of points, so the attacking part of their squad has really improved is is led really well by (Owen) Farrell and (Billy Vunipola). When they’re fit they are the big leaders within the English squad.
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“Everyone understands what they are doing. They have adapted their game, they scored a lot of points against South Africa in South Africa. There is always stuff to work on and Eddie Jones will be working on it and that’s closing out games, finishing it off, being in a position to put teams away.
“They should have beaten the All Blacks last year and I thought they showed some outstanding form. What he will be working on is just fine turning those areas, making those adjustments, encouraging his leaders to step-up and take the reins of his team.
“He really does encourage his leaders to drive the team, and he will have tricks up his sleeve. He’s the sort of guy who would have been planning for this World Cup. Like a lot of coaches he will have game plans, he will have strategies, he will be working on some subtle changes which no one has seen.
“Those are the things you add to a World Cup squad which give you confidence and he is definitely one of those meticulous planners. He’s always thinking ahead, has a good grasp of whoever he is playing, I often joke he would have a game plan for Kazakhstan if they were playing tomorrow.
“Eddie Jones’ comments about the English team requiring an increase in their mental strength, particularly after the hangover of 2015, is really, really important and sage advice. The only way you get better at that is by putting yourselves in those positions and learning from those mistakes you made previously.
“A good example was Scotland just recently. They were up 31 points to nil and then they had to score right at the death to make it a 38-38 draw. You wouldn’t have picked them to be in a position where they are having to score in the last play of the game to draw the match.
— George Gregan (@GeorgeGregan) April 9, 2019
“They are the lessons you learn. Why did it occur? What do we need to do to fix it? As I said earlier, they have started some Test matches really well, they have had really good first halves against the Springboks in South Africa and then they lost those Test matches by a narrow margin.
“There’s something that needs to be changed and fixed, and they will be working on that. A lot of that is driven by the playing group. A lot of it has to be through being pretty honest with each other as well and talk about it, then take steps in the right direction and look forward to putting yourself under pressure because that’s professional sport.”
Gregan was Australia’s captain in 2003 and he believes Farrell would be Jones’ best pick for this role in Japan now that Dylan Hartley has fallen by the wayside with injury. “Owen Farrell and the captaincy and being under pressure all goes hand-in-hand. He responds really well. He is a wonderful player. You saw what he did on the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand a couple of years ago – I thought he was outstanding and a big part of why that was a drawn series.
“He will respond and thrive. I always think it is a bit dangerous putting a player such as him in cotton wool because they want match play, they want to be stretched, they want to be put under a bit of pressure.
“If they don’t have any major injuries, or not managing an injury, then there is nothing better than the confidence of playing inside the arena and getting that match hardness, and just getting those reps under your belt, particularly when it comes to decision making.
“He is a real key player in that team for that reason and the best way to lead your team is by playing. You go back to 2003. England. Before they won they came to Australia and had their best players. They were hardened and prepared for all conditions, so there is a lot to be gained by playing.”
WATCH: Part one of Operation Jaypan, the RugbyPass documentary that tours Japan ahead of the 2019 finals
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