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FEATURE Tough love

Tough love
3 years ago

They definitely weren’t the kind of fans Adam Freier was expecting when he joined the Wallabies.

Standing in a blacked out, makeshift room at the Coffs Harbour Wallabies camp, after every other player had finished up and headed for a feed, Freier was practising his lineouts.

Throw after throw, in the half light, trying to hit the mark.

It’s hard enough to do at the best of times, fatigued at the end of a tough training session, but particularly when huge industrial fans are roaring and blowing a gale at you.

Water is also whipping into Freier’s face and sloshing around the small room, spraying coldly from a hose into the chaotic wind.

And holding on to the end of the hose, barking orders peppered with swear words, is Eddie Jones.

And Jones, who Freier would go on to rate as a loved father figure, is laughing.

All the players felt it, but it started early for the hookers and was more justified.

That fear of Eddie Jones.

A former quality No 2 himself, Jones represented Randwick and NSW, and therefore had a special eye for the hookers selected into his squads.

And they all arrived knowing they were entering a team environment like no other.

“We all copped that for sure,” former Wallabies captain and hooker Stephen Moore recalls of sessions like Freier’s rainstorm ordeal. “He used to put suncream on the ball and have the fan and the hose going. 

“And we might be doing a lineout session, Eddie might be at the other end of the field with the backs and he’d still yell out from down the other end if you got a throw wrong or you did something wrong.

“But for him throwing was about repetition and work ethic and that sort of stuff. And that’s something I tried to carry through my career I guess, but Hass [Freier] and I, we would always have a bit of a laugh about it. And obviously JP [Jeremy Paul] as well. Yeah, it was very good to me when I was coming through that. We’ve all been there boys. Don’t worry.”

That focus from Jones arrived couched in a temperament and sense of humour that meant players often lived on edge, and worked in an environment that was not just hard physically, but mentally.

Eddie Jones takes the Wallaby photocall Credit: Dave Rogers/ALLSPORT

Particularly for the hookers, and particularly for Freier.

Freier, now an executive at Rugby Australia, is still known by either of two nicknames that Jones gave him.

The first is Hass, short for David Hasslehoff after Freier made the mistake of wearing his ‘budgie smuggler’ swimmers to a team session early on, and the second is ‘Pass’ which is short for compass after the young forward turned the wrong way on a trip to Canberra to somehow end up back in Sydney and miss a team meeting.

But only Jones, generally the smallest man in Wallabies camp, would put ‘Little’ in front of both names to constantly remind Freier that he needed to make weight. 

‘Little Hass’ or ‘Little Pass’ would echo around camp as Freier came in for extra attention.

As it did that day in Jones’s‘ ‘storm room’ in conditions Freier remembers as ‘torrential’.

“It was insane, you’ve never seen anything like it,” Freier says. “JP was already back at the restaurant eating and I’m you know, I’m stuck in a black box … and I reckon I would have thrown for over an hour and a half and he wouldn’t let me go. 

“I’m not going to use some of the colourful language that he’d say, but my biggest issue was I would never complain or bite back I’d just go do it. And he made me try to hit the six. Yeah, once you hit the six ball, you can go home. 

Eddie might be at the other end of the field with the backs and he’d still yell out from down the other end if you got a throw wrong or you did something wrong.

Adam Freier, ex-Wallaby

“I know there’s plenty of hookers out there would attest to this. It’s very hard to throw a ball at six, if you’ve not got a dry pill. It’s difficult. And this is torrential rain.  And he let me have it.”

There are players and staff who worked with Jones in the early 2000s who prefer not to talk about him. They didn’t enjoy the time playing for him and found his unique, abrasive style was jarring.

But the hookers, who copped it the most, all sing from the same hymn sheet. Moore, Paul, Freier, Tatafu Polota-Nau – they all talk about how hard they were driven, but how it made them too.

“He used to love [having a go at] his little boy Hass, little Adam Freier,” Paul recalled.

“And actually Steve Moore used to have hair, Squeaky had a lot of hair. I remember, poor little Squeak when he was at one of the first training sessions with Eddie and poor Steve couldn’t sleep. 

“Every time he came into camp, Eddie would just ride him, he’d be like, mate, what are you doing? And it would actually make him make poor decisions within training, but that’s the whole point of what you’re trying to do. 

Eddie Jones takes control during training (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

“You’re trying to replicate, you know, training as game specific as possible. And so you have to have those other mental things that are going on in your head. Making sure that you’re into their head you’re into players’ heads and you’re making sure that they’re thinking about when they get onto that pitch that all they do is concentrate.”

Which is exactly what Jones did. Get into their heads.

“He was absolutely frightening,” Paul recalled. “Mate I didn’t sleep for the first two years of my life. I had three alarm clocks because we obviously didn’t have phones back then.

Polota-Nau also remembers the constant barrage of invective from Jones well.

“He taught us that shit happens, and it’s how quickly you respond to it,” Polota-Nau said. “So I definitely grasped that concept really quickly. And to be honest, it’s quite the ebb and flow of his coaching strategies. 

“Not just with England but also when he was coaching Japan as well. Particularly when they played South Africa, you can definitely see there was a lot of sort of conformity with the whole playing group in terms of how he wanted them to play, but at the same time, if the shit hits the fan, they know how to adapt on the run.”

There was no shit hitting the fan for Freier that day, but for a guy who constantly operated under a barrage of Jones quips and barbs on top of the fans and hoses, he might not have the view you’d expect.

“Even when I was missing [those throws], you know what, the reason why I was doing that was because we were going to Europe and this is the reason he was hard on me,” Freier said. “Everyone used to laugh at me because Hass would come back late for dinner and ‘what did you do’ and ‘one of the trainers said you’ve got to hear this one’ but I didn’t mind being that comic relief. 

But look I owe everything to Eddie Jones he’s instilled a work ethic into me and my moral compass from an understanding of what you put in is what you get out of it.

Jeremy Paul, ex-Wallaby hooker

“[And Jones] found it hilarious. But he knew he was making me a better player.

“We went over to Europe and what do you know, one of the test matches I’m sitting on the bench and it’s pissing down rain and I’m sitting there going ‘well I’ve been here’ and I’m less nervous about going out and throwing in front of 80,000 people in the rain than I am in Coffs Harbour with Eddie Jones screaming at me with a little hose.

“…  and I loved him for that. And I still carry a lot of those things with me today.”

At 40 Freier is still playing rugby for Randwick, and not a weekend goes by that he doesn’t recall the most memorable moment he had with Jones.

This moment wasn’t veteran forwards laughing at him, or trainers chortling as he did that extra hour under Jones’ watchful eye and fiery language.

And it wasn’t something uplifting like a big win or a play that came off perfectly.

It was a young hooker, sitting in the Wallabies office with a guy he saw as a father figure, being told he was getting dropped from the test squad at only 23 years of age.

“I remember him dropping me for Stephen Moore,” Freier recalled. “And I’ve not told this story before but he pulled me into his office. [And] when you’re being groomed and you were the bolter on a tour you don’t get dropped. And I did. 

“I didn’t even make the top three. And he pulled me into his office and, you know, you’re in tears a lot of times with Eddie and he broke me down, like I’m really hurt. 

Adam Freier during the Wallabies training session at Coogee Oval in 2008 (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

“And he said, mate I need you to go away and work on a couple of things.”

As he dropped him from the squad for the 2003 World Cup, Jones told Freier that as a smaller hooker who threw his body hard into everything he wouldn’t make it past 30-years-old as a player.

He gave him things to work on to make the 2007 cup squad, essentially telling him that was his one shot at a lifelong dream. 

“And I remember, I was really upset and leaving that moment and walking out of that room,” Freier said. “You know…that motivated me like you wouldn’t believe and this is where you don’t know whether he does it to motivate you or whether he just does it [to get at you]. 

The bloke that I love and admired telling me I wouldn’t be able to play footy long, I genuinely think about that every weekend when I’m playing for Randwick

Adam Freier, ex-Wallaby

“Nine times out of 10 it’s definitely to motivate you, and I don’t think he was ever hard on me for the wrong reasons. And that conversation there really spurred me to go on.”

And go on he did. Freier achieved his dream in 2007 as part of the Wallabies squad to play in France, even though Jones was long gone from the Wallabies, and also racked up more than 100 Super caps when they were a little harder to accumulate. 

“The bloke that I love and admired telling me I wouldn’t be able to play footy long, I genuinely think about that every weekend when I’m playing for Randwick,” Freier smiles. “It took one conversation in one meeting with Eddie Jones to spark me up to play in a World Cup and to continue to play. And he’s considered the best coach in the world. So I’ve got one up on him there.”

Freier smiles as he recalls how Jones forged a diamond approach from the pressure he heaped on the young man’s shoulders. And he wouldn’t have it any other way. His words echo those of Paul on the importance of Jones’ hardline approach in making him into a man.

“I wouldn’t be the bloke that I am without Eddie,” Freier said. “I would say that all of my work ethic and all the way that I approach life, whether it’s off the field on the field or even just in my new role in sports admin with rugby, you know, he’s created that for a kid to come out of Maroubra that grew up with a single parent with one brother to then get a figure like Eddie as a father figure. 

“They’re pretty important years from sort of 18 to 23 to clip into line. I wouldn’t want it any other way. He’s a big part of who I am now.”

It’s pretty clear from those days that Jones still has a couple of big fans. 

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