Dispatches that Eddie Jones will coach the Stormers in next year’s Super Rugby competition fit in nicely with the build-up to the rugby World Cup.
Eight years ago, Jones was instrumental in helping Jake White take the Springboks to their second World Cup success in the 2007 tournament in France.
The man who, with the Brumbies, gave Australia the Super 14 title for the first time and guided an unfancied Wallaby team to the final of the 2003 World Cup did not add much to the Springboks – but what he did add was crucial.
He kept a low profile, unlike his days with the Wallabies, when he loved riling the English, and side-stepped all my requests, as SuperSport’s news reporter at the time, to appear on camera.
He eventually relented during the week of the quarterfinals in Marseilles, perhaps because White by then was suffering from media fatigue, but he was guarded in his replies to my questions.
However, once the camera was taken down, we chatted, and I was able to glean some of his insightful thoughts about the Springboks.
One revelation was a strategy he had learnt from his predecessor at both the Brumbies and the Wallabies, Rod Macqueen.
In an effort to involve the Aussie players and get them to be part of team tactics, he used to instruct them to view the Springboks, or the All Blacks for that matter, as a fortress that had to be sacked.
He asked them to come back with ideas about how they would go about breaching the defences of “Castle Springbok” and, he revealed, sometimes those thoughts were good ones.
I was immediately struck by how fortunate the Springboks were to have Jones’ services. Suddenly, a man who had spent years pondering how to beat us was in our team imparting all that experience.
Jones was always adamant that John Smit’s Springboks were a very good team and did not need to change much, but for a few tweaks.
These could be narrowed down to three main things, and I could not help but smile when he mentioned the first.
“The trouble with you South Africans,” he said, “is that you don’t communicate.” He meant the team, of course, but how true.
Jones set about getting the players to talk to each other more, to call out their positions and constantly let the man with the ball know where his support was.
In addition, he encouraged the Boks to use the short or blind side more, and this, orchestrated by Fourie du Preez, became the source of many of the Springboks’ tries during the tournament.
The third adjustment was to get the Boks to move out of their habit of having just one runner calling for the ball at the breakdown.
Jones felt having a “one-off” runner made the Boks predictable, and he encouraged them to introduce a few variations by having more players take up different positions to suggest the ball might go to them rather than transmitting who was going to crash it up – thus giving the scrum half more options.
It worked a treat – but sadly, especially in the last two aspects, the Boks have slipped back into old bad habits.
Jones’ appointment at the Stormers has yet to be officially confirmed, but here’s hoping it’s more than a rumour.
Jones would relish working with the loads of talent available in the Cape, and South African rugby can do with an injection of new and inventive thinking.
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