Eddie Jones (Gallo Images)
Johannesburg - Just how much will the Eddie Jones factor come into play when the Springboks open their Rugby World Cup against Japan in Brighton on Saturday?
According to the supersport.com website, that is the question around the Springbok base in Eastbourne, both from media and supporters as the Boks prepare to embark on their biggest quest under coach Heyneke Meyer.
And while almost everybody except Jones and his entourage believes that the Springboks should win without too much trouble, there is a slight tinge of worry about just how much Jones has up his sleeve ahead of this game.
While weather is the one factor that could come into play for the match, Jones’ intimate knowledge of Springbok players – especially the frontline Bok ones will play a massive part and help him prepare a counter-plan to stop the Springbok assault.
The Boks know all too well how important it is to kick off on the right mental plane and make a statement, not so much for the rest of the tournament but for their own fans back home in South Africa after a tough Castle Lager Rugby Championship and will be hoping to get the reward for their hard work in the match.
Fourie du Preez and Schalk Burger – both who play for Suntory Sungoliath in Japan – know Jones and the Japanese players better than most, and both have been increasingly involved in the planning for this game as well.
But the counter is also true, with Jones knowing the Boks well from his time as Springbok assistant coach, helping Jake White to win the Rugby World Cup in 2007 and is a popular man among the Bok players, with Bryan Habana even giving him his Springbok blazer as a thank you after 2007.
Du Preez moved to Japan to play under Jones when he was still at Suntory, and has described how Jones was mentoring him ahead of his post-playing career as a coach.
Bok coach Heyneke Meyer has played down the Jones factor, saying that with modern technology and analysis, sides know so much about each other already.
“I think Eddie was involved with a number of our players, and he knows a number of them from Japan as well. He knows our individual players very well, and with technology we both would have watched each other’s games at length,” Meyer said.
“If you change too much in the World Cup then you don’t play to your strengths. There will be a few small changes, but they won’t change what they normally do. Their strengths are in the way they carry the ball, play at a high tempo and put the pressure on in that way. If you prepare too much for the other team and forget your own strengths, then you lose your strengths.
“The fact that Eddie knows a lot of our players will make a difference, but we have seen that teams stay the same and do the things they trained a lot for. There will be surprises, same as with us, but I don’t think the overall way of playing will differ much for them. It can be a negative if you focus too much on the opposition rather than on your own game.”
Du Preez praised Jones in his interview earlier in the week, saying he was one of the best technically astute coaches in world rugby.
“He is one of the best technical coaches in world and I learned a lot from him,” Du Preez said.
“He had a big impact on my career. The one thing I know is that they (Japan) will be properly prepared and there will be a few surprises. We have got to be ready for it.”
How the Boks react to these situations will be key to seeing their own plans through. Either way Jones is likely to feature high in their planning agenda.