Johannesburg - Anyone who has ever been to England coach Eddie Jones’ press conferences has either witnessed or been the subject of a dressing down.
My favourite was from his days as Wallabies coach, when he pitched up at a Durban press conference with that cocked left eyebrow sailing even closer to his hairline than usual in irritation.
A colleague had written that Australia – who, at the time, boasted such front row giants as Bill Young and Al Baxter – were looking to take the Springboks on where they thought they were soft, the scrums.
When asked to verify the claims, Jones was having none of it: “Why don’t you ask Mr Greenaway over there!”
When my colleague tried to counter by saying he’d lifted the offensive content off a website, Jones ranted: “It wasn’t a very good website now, was it, Mr Greenaway?”
Thanks to his background as a schoolteacher, Jones can be quite dismissive and superior, a streak inherent in Jake White and Graham Henry, other former teacher coaches. It’s not an attitude that cuts it with the English media.
Through a combination of erudition and good old-fashioned s**t-stirring, few people can ruin a reputation like the Fleet Street mob. Through a systematic, almost coordinated scrutiny of every minute decision a coach makes – and stopping just short of an illogical conclusion in interpretation – those guys can drive a coach to distraction.
After initially wooing them with a 17-game winning streak en route to equalling the All Blacks’ world record streak of 18 and capturing two Six Nations titles, one of them a Grand Slam, Jones is now firmly in their crosshairs.
Apart from not appreciating his superiority – he’s had some heated post-match interviews in the past 18 months – the fact that his team has inevitably started losing, a count that numbered five before yesterday’s test against the Springboks, has given them enough to question his methods.
As it turns out, the ground is fertile for doubting Jones’ ways anyway, what with the English club owners railing at how many of their players return injured from England camps, where the coach was thinking so far out of the box that the players were doing anything from yoga to ballet in search of those elusive marginal gains.
Jones also didn’t help his popularity by branding Bath owner Bruce Craig “the Donald Trump” of rugby. Simply put, if the Australian keeps losing games, not many in England will object to their media suggesting he should be sacked, even though his contract runs until 2021.
Assuming the thinking is that Jones was a lucky one-trick pony throughout his 17-test winning streak, there are a few mitigating circumstances behind why his team is spluttering.
You can’t go through two seasons of international rugby without the other coaches twigging on to your methods; England have played without a genuine openside flanker for too long; this South African tour has come after an even bigger British and Irish Lions tour this time last year; some of their senior players are either fatigued, injured or just back from injury; they are playing a fresh Bok team that is much better coached than it has been in the past two years, at altitude; and so young is the team that two of them (Nick Isiekwe and Tom Curry) could have played against the Junior Boks on Tuesday.
If he does somehow get fired, few people will be happier about it than South Africans, who revere and fear Jones in equal measure after his roles in helping us win the 2007 Rugby World Cup and that ambush in Brighton by Japan at the last World Cup.
Getting rid of Jones would mean one less wily bastard Rassie Erasmus has to come up against at the business end of next year’s World Cup. Thanks to a big forward pack, aggressive defending and an accurate goalkicker, few teams are more wired to be competitive at tournament rugby than England.
The English are essentially a wealthier and more sophisticated South Africa, and if we buy into how crucial his role was to White winning the World Cup, then, at the very least, his team should have a say in who wins in Japan.
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