Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - While currently well entrenched as head coach of World Cup 2019 runners-up England, Eddie Jones refuses to write off the possibility of a more prolonged tenure on South African turf.
That is despite his much-publicised installation - and then just as rapid quitting - as intended mastermind of the Stormers in late 2015.
His dilemma in leaving the natural beauty and rugby promise of the Western Cape in favour of probably the most high-profile job in rugby - head coach of England - is widely documented in his just-released autobiography My Life and Rugby (with Donald McRae).
In an interview from the UK with Sport24 this week, linked to the book’s launch, much-travelled (and decorated) Jones was asked whether he could ever envisage a return these shores.
"100 percent mate ... I would love to still coach in either of South Africa or New Zealand, such traditional powerhouses of world rugby," he said.
"As an Australian growing up (in a country where rugby union faces many sporting rivalries) I dreamt of coaching in the very best places. If that opportunity came up ever again, hopefully I could stay longer than two weeks!"
Jones is 59, but he insisted his appetite for the game is undimmed: "I love the game, I love coaching and the way coaching evolves; possibly age is actually an advantage now.
"I mean, I was just saying to someone the other day, my daughter is 26 so I have brought up someone now of the same age as most of the players I am currently coaching, giving you a very good idea how people think at that (phase in life) and what they are thinking about - I believe it’s a help, you know."
While Robbie Fleck grabbed the reins at Newlands after Jones left, he has now been replaced as Stormers head coach for 2020 by John Dobson, of whom Jones said: "I met Dobbo a couple of times. He's a bright bloke with creative ways of doing things; thinks about the game a lot.
"The challenge as a young coach is always the fact that you may think you know everything, (yet) you've got to make the game simple for the players.
"That will be the greatest challenge for him, but he does think about the game enormously - he really loves Western Province and the Stormers. He'll do a great job for you guys."
Here is another extract from the book, with kind permission of publishers Pan Macmillan, focussing specifically on the Stormers-England swap:
"I was going to become the head coach of the Stormers, in Cape Town. I couldn't remember too many occasions when I had been more excited by such an opportunity.
"Maybe the Brumbies edged it - but I was now much more experienced and clearer in knowing how to build a high-performing team. I have always wanted to coach in South Africa.
"The attraction is strong because, for me, the two greatest rugby nations in the world are New Zealand and South Africa. As an Australian I’m never going to be given the opportunity to coach the All Blacks, and so the chance to take over the Stormers, in a city as beautiful as Cape Town, was unmissable.
"There is so much raw talent in South Africa, especially in the Cape. My experience with the Springboks in 2007 had also given me confidence that I could get the best out of South African players. I was convinced that the Stormers could become Super Rugby champions. I liked their players and I had already forged a positive relationship with my new support staff.
"After one meeting with the squad, and one upbeat training session, I was even more convinced I’d made the best possible choice in swapping Tokyo for Cape Town.
"Jake White (Bok World Cup-winning coach in 2007, who took on Jones as technical advisor in the successful French-staged campaign – Sport24) was even more excited than me. He called me with the news that England were looking for a new head coach after the departure of Stuart Lancaster.
"We all knew that Stuart was a very talented coach, but it seemed to me that England's failure to get out of the group stages, at a World Cup held in their own country, meant that it was impossible for Stuart to continue.
"Jake had always wanted to be England head coach. He told me he had applied, while I confirmed I had no intention of putting myself forward. I was committed to the Stormers. Jake and I share an agent, Craig Livingstone in Johannesburg, and it sounded like the wheels were turning.
"Jake had an interview for the job on the Friday. 'That's great, mate,' I said, and wished him good luck. I didn't think any more of it. Then, out of the blue, Craig called me on the Thursday. He said Ian Ritchie, the chief executive of the RFU, had asked if I might meet him in Cape Town on Saturday.
"We agreed that I would be crazy not to hear what he had to say - especially as Ritchie had initiated the contact and seemed very keen to talk to me.
"'OK, mate,' I said to Craig. 'There's no harm in chatting to him. Go ahead and set it up.’ I took another call from Jake on Friday night. I got the feeling that his interview had not gone so well because he spoke mostly about the possibility of our doing the job together.
"After we had worked so successfully as a team in 2007, we had spoken occasionally about doing the same again one day in the future. I was open to it, as I knew England was one of the most taxing jobs in world rugby. I told Jake I’d definitely mention it to Ritchie when we met.
"Craig, who brokered the deal with the Stormers, had placed a clause in my contract saying that I could terminate the agreement in the event of a job offer from a tier-one country. But I still felt a twinge of guilt when I got up on Saturday morning to meet Ritchie.
"I was very happy in Cape Town; but the possibility of being offered the England job was both intriguing and compelling. Even the thought of coaching England gave me butterflies.
"Ian and I met at a fancy hotel on the Waterfront. Craig had arranged everything and the room had a beautiful view of Table Mountain. It gave me the perfect response when, after we said hello, shook hands and made some small talk, Ian asked if I was interested in coaching England.
"'Well, mate,' I said with a little smile, 'who wants to swap Cape Town for London?' Ian laughed and joked about the impossible task of competing with the Cape sunshine and the majesty of Table Mountain.
"I liked him and I was soon seriously impressed. He was better prepared than any chief executive I had ever met; he had clearly done his homework and spoken to people who knew me in all my previous jobs. He had been very discreet and professional.
"I explained that Jake had been in touch and raised the option of our doing the job as a team. But Ian wasn’t interested. He was polite in that very English way but clear that he thought it would be too complicated and messy. He was convinced that England needed one man with one vision.
"That man would be 100 per cent accountable to Ian, as the CEO, for the performance of the team. He also made it clear that he thought I was that person. We talked about the job and English rugby, about the World Cup (2015) failure, and his vision for the future.
"As the minutes ticked past, I became more and more excited by the prospect of working with Ian and the RFU to build the best team in the world. I made no attempt to play hardball or disguise my interest in the job.
"They had excellent players, but in my opinion the team lacked leadership and a differentiated style. I knew I could help England be more consistent. I reassured Ian that my experience with Saracens had given me insight into the unique challenges of English rugby.
"My focus would be on improving England’s best players and creating a winning team. Ian politely raised my 'management style'. He had heard of my abrasive and demanding reputation. He wanted to know if I had mellowed over the years.
"'Yes,' I said honestly, 'especially since the stroke.' I discussed the impact of my illness and, more importantly, how I maintained friendships with the majority of my former players. A few still popped up in the media to talk about the way I might have shouted at them years ago - but even they tended to say that they had become better players in the process.
"I stressed to Ian that rugby had changed hugely in the past 20 years, and that it was no longer possible to speak to players in the way we had done in the early days of professionalism. As the conversation drew to a close, it was obvious that things had gone well.
"We shook hands and, three days after we met, on the Monday, a deal was in place for me to become England's head coach until 2019.
"When he heard the news, Jake was upset. He didn't say it directly to me, but I was sure he felt I hadn’t supported him or the idea of doing the job together strongly enough. But Ian had stressed that the RFU were never going to appoint a two-man coaching team. Ian said later that he had flown to Cape Town with the express intention of appointing me.
"My conscience was clear. I knew Jake was seriously disappointed, but I’d earned the offer to coach England through my own performance over many years. I certainly wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity of a lifetime because it might hurt Jake's feelings.
"I was more concerned about breaking the news to the Stormers. I felt terrible that, after just two weeks, I was asking to be released. The irony was that the Stormers had been a dream job - until I fell into an even better and far bigger dream.
"The management and my fellow coaches at the Stormers were disappointed but understanding. They recognized the huge opportunity I had been offered and they made the hard task of saying goodbye so much easier.
"It had been a whirlwind. On Thursday evening I had been setting up my office and new life in Cape Town. By the following Monday night I was on a plane and heading to London as coach of the biggest team in the world."
*My Life and Rugby: The Autobiography by Eddie Jones (with Donald McRae) is published by Pan Macmillan and available in leading SA bookstores. Recommended retail price R330.