Fast Eddie will surely kick England into shape

Despite not staying very long in each job, Australian Eddie Jones has always made his mark, especially in Australia, South Africa and Japan.
Despite not staying very long in each job, Australian Eddie Jones has always made his mark, especially in Australia, South Africa and Japan.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Being married to Eddie Jones must be interesting. One week he is off to live in South Africa, the next he is popping up in London as England's new head coach.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) has not hired someone who stays in one place indefinitely: This is his 13th job switch in 20 years.

Then again, the RFU knew that. It has jumped into bed with a man it knows mostly by reputation, crossing its fingers he will spice up the national side almost overnight.


You need talent and you need cohesion - and there is plenty of talent in England. So the thing you've got to work on is cohesion.

EDDIE JONES, England's new coach, on his task after the host nation's flop in the recent Rugby World Cup

Ian Ritchie, the RFU's chief executive, has moved swiftly to land the big name he promised but the back-slapping of a Twickenham press conference is never the best moment to judge the potential longevity of a professional relationship. Just ask the Stormers, who laid out their welcome mat in Cape Town earlier this month.

If Jones is still in office when the 2019 World Cup commences, it will equal the longest time he has ever spent in the same job.

Soon enough his new employers may also be wondering if they have invited a piranha around for tea. As Toulon's Matt Giteau, who played under him for the Brumbies and Australia, was swift to suggest, there could easily be tears.

"Smart coach and will call a spade a spade," he tweeted. "I've copped many sprays off him over the years."

The centre, nevertheless, reckons England have chosen well. In terms of short-term impact, it is hard to disagree with him. Because Jones, if nothing else, will jolt all from their comfort zones.

From this week, when the former Japan head coach officially takes control, woolly thinking will be banished and nothing will be guaranteed. Already he is planning to invite his England players to turn up to their first training session wearing their club kit to emphasise that nothing useful will be achieved unless they share a common goal.

"If you want to wear that jersey underneath your England jersey, you can't play for England. You've got to think like an English player," the 55-year-old explains.

Will he employ more carrot or stick? "Look, I am direct when I need to be direct but I can be soft as well... I don't see that as being a problem."

This sifting process will begin with his assistant coaches - "I might not be happy with them" - and, sooner rather than later, England's World Cup captain Chris Robshaw.

Given he has been less than complimentary in print about Robshaw's qualities as a Test openside flanker, might that meeting require sensitive handing?

"He's got a nice cafe in Winchester. Fantastic coffee. Best coffee in England. I might grab him for a coffee down there. Now, that would be sensitive."

Classic Eddie: Throw a sly punch then duck and weave until everyone forgets about the initial salvo. The Twickenham media department is in for an interesting ride.

What England really need, though, is his considerable rugby intellect and relentlessly shrewd eye. He generally likes an outside-half who can play - potentially good news for George Ford and Danny Cipriani - and is not averse to a second playmaker.

If Henry Slade shines over the next month or so, he could easily face Scotland in early February.

Steffon Armitage, on the other hand, looks to be struggling. The RFU has already briefed Jones that the bar on overseas-based players representing England must be retained to pacify the Premiership clubs. It is easy to imagine the wandering Aussie road warrior smiling inwardly as it did so.

Beneath the wisecracks, though, Jones knows his stuff. England first need to restore their set-piece foundations and not expect to outplay the All Blacks from day one.

To his mind England have plenty of talented individuals who are crying out for someone - anyone - to maximise the sum of those parts.

"There are two things you need to win a game of rugby," stressed Jones. "You need talent and you need cohesion - and there is plenty of talent in England."

Given Japan beat South Africa at the recent Rugby World Cup despite lacking a second-row taller than 1.83m - "I'm sure there are bigger locks here; in fact, I know there are" - Jones' resourcefulness is also indisputable.

The mind's eye keeps returning to the technical excellence of Japan's breakdown work, the quick channel-one ball with which they outfoxed the Springboks, the clarity of their tactical game plan and the quality of their execution.

If the Brave Blossoms can do that, why not the wilted Red Roses? Jones is not everyone's cup of tea but he does have a blank sheet of paper. The next couple of years will be eventful, to say the least.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2015, with the headline 'Fast Eddie will surely kick England into shape'. Subscribe