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FEATURE Mick Cleary: 'You could fill a shrink’s notepad with all sorts of theories as to why Eddie Jones is as he is.'

Mick Cleary: 'You could fill a shrink’s notepad with all sorts of theories as to why Eddie Jones is as he is.'
1 month ago

Japan knew all too well what they were getting when they reappointed Eddie Jones. More of the same. At his official unveiling as the new England head coach nine years ago a Twickenham, Jones had gone through the fluffy top-table questions and all appeared to be winding down until a Japanese TV reporter piped up.

“Mr Jones-san. Japanese players say you the devil.’

It was, to be fair, a rather more pointed line of inquiry than most of us had managed over the preceding hour. Back came the trademark Jones quip in response.

“One day the devil, mate,” said Jones. “The next day an angel.”

You couldn’t get a more pithy take on Jones the man and Jones the coach. It was to be that way with England during his white-and-black tenure, high points, low points, barbs and banter, soaring upturns, stomach-giddying descents, players invigorated, players discarded, coaches hired, coaches fired, budgets busted and all destined to end as all his coaching shifts have done – in discord and a parting of the ways.

A well-informed, well-travelled Aussie pal actually phoned me en route to that opening press conference. There was a bit of background filling in before the sign-off.

“You do know it’ll end in tears, don’t you?”

Eddie Jones
The Eddie Jones show has returned to Japan where sparks will fly next weekend (Photo by KAZUHIRO NOGI/Getty Images)

My Aussie mucker wouldn’t have been surprised, either, by the tone as well as the substance of last week’s astonishing interview in The Times between Jones and a fearless former colleague, Owen Slot. Actually, it was more an OK Corral stand-off rather than the traditional one-on-one interview where the questions might be probing but a sense of decorum is maintained.

The piece became a slanging match. Or it did on one side of the voice recorder. Slot confronted Jones with countless examples of his overbearing style of management down the years, using unattributable comments (but 100% credible) from various former assistant coaches and backroom staff. Jones has never liked being challenged, as was abundantly clear in the article, reverting to a personal critique of the journalist once his patience ran out and he was unable to rebut several of the allegations against him with any sort of rational analysis.

“You’re a spiteful person,” said Jones. “ It’s sad, very sad. I feel sad for you, so negative.”

Jones has always been a scuffler, first as a pint-sized hooker, giving it to the big boys with his mouth if not the full force of his diminutive stature, rising through the ranks to just below national representative level

And this despite Slot quoting one of Jones’ former employees as saying: “The way Eddie treated his coaching staff was horrific – it was unreasonable, obnoxious, unfair. There probably wasn’t a day when I wouldn’t think about punching him.”

You do wonder why Jones ever agreed to the interview which took place in Paris where he was on a recce trip ahead of Japan playing there during the November test series. The answer is simple. As Jones’  long-term mentor, former Wallaby coach, Bob Dwyer, once told me:

“Eddie can’t help himself. He’s a bit like me. He likes a scrap and he likes the last word.’

Jones has always been a scuffler, first as a pint-sized hooker, giving it to the big boys with his mouth if not the full force of his diminutive stature, rising through the ranks to just below national representative level and then on to the very heights as a supremely skilled coach.

Eddie Jones
Eddie Jones will be reacquainted with many of he players he used to coach in England (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

But there has always been a darker side to that technically gifted individual. Call it what you will – a lack of empathy, an inability to tolerate what he might perceive as a frailty, be it technical or emotional, considering it a personal affront. There is a sense of a bully’s baser instinct to root our and pick-upon the weak, an inability to delegate, a lack of trust in those around him – you could fill a shrink’s notepad with all sorts of theories as to why Eddie Jones is as he is.

There is no doubt whatsoever that he is a difficult bloke to work for even if his record of success is an alluring prospect for any assistant coach. Part Mourinho, part Guardiola, part Ferguson (and none-at-all Klopp-like with his empathetic antennae), Jones is an accomplished operator at one level. He is also engaging company, fascinating in his views on an ever-evolving game. He makes players better, that’s for sure, although they might suffer for their improvement. Not many players have spoken out directly against him, not even off-the-record, albeit the veil of silence is probably self-protective for why diss the bloke who has the power to drop you. That said, Jones did produce title-winning, high-achieving teams. But that, of course, is only part of the story.

Borthwick, too, is not a man for off-field verbals. Many coaches and players claim never to read the papers albeit they somehow have an encyclopaedic knowledge of every word that has been written our uttered about them. Borthwick is the exception to that rule.

How much of this will be in play over the coming days in Tokyo? Well, England are fortunate on two fronts: Japan are nothing like the force that they were in 2015 and 2019 and are in a rebuild phase and, secondly, they have got Steve Borthwick in charge. Jones does not publicly praise too many opposition coaches but he does in the case of the England head coach who was, of course, his right-hand man when Japan pulled off one of the all-time World Cup shocks when beating the Springboks in Brighton in 2015.

Borthwick, too, is not a man for off-field verbals. Many coaches and players claim never to read the papers albeit they somehow have an encyclopaedic knowledge of every word that has been written our uttered about them. Borthwick is the exception to that rule. The Borthwick Bubble is of Fort Knox dimensions.

No matter what Jones might say – and he even managed to destabilise the All Blacks prior to the 2019 semi-final – it will have no bearing on Borthwick. He has plenty on his plate, notably ensuring that his players are in the groove ahead of what will be a fascinating few weeks on the road. There will be a temptation to mix n’match his resources for the Japan test. That urge should be resisted. The two-test series in New Zealand offers England a rare chance to get one over the All Blacks. They have only managed two of those in history on Kiwi soil so the scale of the achievement were it to happen would be considerable.

Eddie Jones Steve Borthwick
Eddie Jones had a long working relationship with Steve Borthwick and doesn’t indulge in slanging matches with his former protege (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Imagesges)

Forget all those notions about building slowly towards the World Cup in Australia in 2025. That sort of approach is deluded. The only worthwhile preparation for a World Cup is to be winning test matches. That’s the mindset needed over the next week. The New Zealand leg will look after itself.

There will be medical bulletins to asses, a need to weigh up some rest and recuperation issues after a lengthy season although the fact that there is a two week gap between Tokyo and the first test in Dunedin is a boon for jaded bodies.

The absence of George Ford means that they will find out once and for all if Marcus Smith can cut it as a regular starting test fly-half and lead the charge for England in their new-age attacking ways. And if he comes up short, then step forward Fin Smith.

England travel strong and in good order after their heartening finish to the Six Nations. They are only missing a handful of players, a decent state of affairs at the end of a draining season. The absence of George Ford means that they will find out once and for all if Marcus Smith can cut it as a regular starting test fly-half and lead the charge for England in their new-age attacking ways. And if he comes up short, then step forward Fin Smith.

There are combinations to sift and sort in the back-row where the Kamikaze Kids from 2019, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill, might be reunited,. There is a battle royale at scrum-half to savour with Ben Spencer eclipsing Alex Mitchell in the Premiership final. Even without one-time stalwarts such as Courtney Lawes, Danny Care and Owen Farrell in the ranks, England have enough experience to deal with whatever might come their way, be it Eddie Jones, the Brave Blossoms or Scott Robertson’s All Blacks. There may well be early morning shifts to endure in order to take in the action live from Japan and New Zealand but they will be well worth the effort.

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Comments

3 Comments
j
john 35 days ago

Eddie never got over his small man syndrome. A bit like Cheika really. Never made the Wallabies and played the ‘immigrant’ victim card endlessly in their minds, despite lots of success.

Ungrateful, cunning sods really. Not uncommon for their ilk.

Eddie’s return home to give a couple of hopeless Tah players like Porecki and Donaldson a chance of undeserved stardom has undone all his previous good work.

He’s just an unAustralian arse now.

E
Ed the Duck 35 days ago

Real entertaining read Mick! I do wonder though, why retired players aren’t more liberal with their views on EJ? Take Dylan Hartley for example. It’s well documented how Eddie beasted him to set an example and raise the bar for the rest of the squad. Surely once they’re retired and out of reach you would expect one or two interesting and attributable quotes…?

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