Rugby: Tough-as-nails coach Eddie Jones admits he's had to show softer side to get best out of players

Eddie Jones is still learning to be less intense on his players and staff.
Eddie Jones is still learning to be less intense on his players and staff.

LONDON • The Eddie Jones whirlwind that has blown through England rugby this year will blow itself out after the next World Cup.

The man himself sits back in his seat and eradicates any suggestion that he might stay. "Four years is enough," says the 56-year-old. He will stop, as planned, after 2019.

What is particularly striking, though, is the reason. "It is quite emotionally draining," he says.

Yes, this is the man who rules by certainty, who never appears to entertain so much as a doubt, who has never given so much as a glimpse of the limits of his emotional toughness. He talks about this toughness and the origins of the outlier personality. For instance, about sleep - which he barely gets.

He used to get by on two to three hours a night and has upped that only marginally now. Why?

"I wanted to make sure the team was the best prepared it could be and to do that, you have to have knowledge."

And he did not feel that there were enough hours in the (normal) waking day to get it.

So he trained himself not to sleep. How? "Just put the alarm on, get up."

England's players may be surprised to hear that this is now a softer version of the old Eddie.

Eddie 2.0 rules less by fear, though not because he has mellowed in his middle age, but because he believes that young people today do not have the resilience to respond to his old methods.

Why is he like this?

"My mother (a Japanese) had a bit of a hard upbringing," he says. He talks also about the racial abuse he experienced as a half-Japanese kid in 1970s Sydney.

He talks too about his limitations as a young player: "When you are small and you are slow, you have to find a way to be effective to get in the team. My way was to try to be a smart player, to try to learn how to read the game."

You therefore wonder if all this was a recipe for the personality we see before us. He does not see it that way.

"I don't think it was about proving something bigger," he says. "I can never remember sitting in my room saying, 'I've got to do this because I want people to take notice, I want to prove a point.'"

Not even his sacking from the job as Wallabies head coach in 2005, he insists, worked as a motivator.

So what, then, is his driving force? He says it is the holy grail: The perfect 80 minutes.

He did find it once, he says, in his first year as a coach, for the Randwick B team. Ever since then, he says, he has sought it continuously.

As his search continues, he has evolved. Eddie Jones, the original model, has gone; at least so he says.

"That old style - 'I'm gonna beat you with fear' - it just doesn't work today, because people are educated differently and you've got to treat them differently. You've got to be smart about how to get what you want out of people.

"The balance of how you do things changes. Maybe in the old days it was 60 per cent fear and hairdryer-type coaching, 40 per cent arm around the shoulder. Today I think it's probably 70 per cent arm around the shoulder, and 30 per cent fear."

But he admits: "I am still too hard on the staff. That is an area I am not good at - because I expect the staff to be as driven as me and when they are not, I get disappointed."

There is another balance on which he has switched his position.

You ask him which one person has had the greatest influence on him in recent years and he still goes back to his visit to see Pep Guardiola taking a Bayern Munich coaching session, in November 2014.

He says that when he watched Guardiola in action, he was "almost embarrassed about how my coaching had regressed". Yet, what really struck him was how the Spaniard empowered the players.

"Good coaching is knowing when to tell them and when to listen - it's that balance," he says.

Back in his Aussie coaching days, many said that he got it wrong. Too what...? "Dictatorial," he says, completing the sentence, "100 per cent, probably the balance is better now."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2016, with the headline 'Eddie Jones shows softer side to get best out of players'. Print Edition | Subscribe