Eddie Jones peered over the top of his glasses. He was perched beside John Mitchell, 20 or so rows up in the Yokohama Stadium, the scene of their greatest triumph just 24 hours earlier.
Neither seemed to want to talk to each other. Mitchell, the New Zealander, was leaning forward in his seat, his ice-cold blue eyes leering into a Japanese Sunday night, seeking out the future. Jones had his view cast downwards, a pen and paper in his hand. He was up to something. He always is.
The day before had been just another heist for Jones. A man so good at taking something that seemingly belongs to others. This is why you can’t quite warm to him, why he creates such antipathy in people. He has the demeanour of someone two or three thoughts further along than you. The look of someone who has already worked out an angle, just in case he needs it. A man who trusts few, sleeps little and rarely says anything by accident.
But it had been his most impressive heist. One that left a normally eloquent Steve Hansen a little short of the right words. Like an angry police chief, on whose watch this all had happened, he turned on the press, asking them outside for questioning New Zealand’s efforts.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 27, 2019
Another jewel to add to the booty; Jones’ larceny had brought out a frustrated, physical response from someone normally so unflappable. Jones countered in his own conference that England had just beaten ‘the God of rugby’. You had to smile. This was a comment coated in respect but one whose soft, juicy centre nodded towards his own accomplishment: “This was the world’s biggest and best bank,” he seemed to say. “…and people said I couldn’t get in.”
Kieran Read blinked post-match like a security guard unable to relay any facts about who had entered the premises. “It all happened so fast,” I expected him to mutter before looking towards the floor in disbelief. Not that New Zealand had been caught unawares you understand, it’s just when something that well planned, that well executed happens, the only natural response is one of uncertainty. Anything else and you almost seem complicit.
England had been certain. The opening ninety-eight seconds had come right off of Eddie’s whiteboard, the pen squeaking painfully as Jones’ hand drew arrow after vicious arrow: Daly around the outside; Watson stepping; all the way out to the other wing, Jamie George loitering with intent; quick hands into the midfield, get everyone involved; bash, bash, Tuilagi from close range.
England had gone in fast, through the front gate; the most unexpected of entrances are often through the most obvious door. A minute and a half of rugby football that sang deep into English hearts. ‘We don’t care who the f*** you are!’ came England’s apparent song.
Moments earlier the crowd had watched them ‘flick the v’ at the most famous of rugby salvos. Farrell, a captain so perfectly cast in his role of gang leader, positioned atop the arrowhead, couldn’t help a derisory smirk toward the All Blacks’ Haka. This is a side who have taken Jones’ disdain for everyone to their hearts. ‘No one likes England,’ the Tasmanian had proffered earlier in the week. But here’s the kicker: this England team hate everyone else so much more.
Each and every player knew their role. We were watching an omniscient operation. As New Zealand tried to find their voice, Jones’ men responded by putting a hand over each mouth. As the game wore on, those watching grew a nagging realisation: the last few years had been all about this. A year previous at Twickenham, England had led us halfway down the path, turning back short to perhaps save a little in reserve. New Zealand had overcome the fast start that day. Lawes’ offside infringement as Underhill snuck forth robbing them of a famous victory. There would be no such overstepping in Yokohama.
Jones’ wickedness was known best amongst his own men, he’d had them sat out of training for any offside during the week. It led to a near faultless undertaking. To undo the All Blacks, everyone’s rugby hero, the villainy has to be virtuoso.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 27, 2019
There is a point, of course, where a villain becomes so good at being bad, that we actually start to love them. And it is difficult to dent the affection now held for Eddie. His terrifying reign has bred a confident and all-encompassing approach in which it is difficult to see any flaws. The Sunday newspapers poured forth. Not that Jones will read the accolades. Why would you when you know what they say?
But now to the final: South Africa represent the perfect mark. How challenging to pickpocket someone who knows you’re a thief. Four years ago in Brighton, Jones’ oversaw an outrageous swindle. And yet, as pen met pad, high up in the stadium, as the South Africans wrestled their way clear of Wales, a plan was afoot. He will have to beat the ‘Boks in a different fashion. But there is no one better placed to pull it off.
Jones’ infamy has made this one of the best rugby crime stories ever told. And amongst it all, he has stolen our hearts as well.
Watch: Fans react after England beat New Zealand
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