Eddie Jones (Gallo Images)
Tokyo - If anyone can get Japan to punch above their weight at the Rugby
World Cup, it's Eddie Jones, the grizzled former Wallabies coach looking to go
out with a bang.
Jones, whose Australia side were beaten by England flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson's
dramatic extra-time drop goal in the 2003 final, is set to step down after the
tournament, having turned his players into gym rats to address their physical
Japan's glass jaw has been exposed time and again at previous World Cups but
55-year-old Jones insists Asia's top side can spring an upset and reach the
quarter-finals in England.
"I've been lucky enough to go to the World Cup before with Australia
and your only intention is to win the World Cup," he said in a recent
"The team feels the pressure a little, which I don't think is such a
bad thing," added Jones, who recently announced his decision not to sign a
new contract with Japan. "Whilst they might struggle with it now, once
they get to the World Cup we can use it to our advantage."
The Japanese begin their punishing daily training at 5:00 am in a bid to get
a jump on their rivals and Jones employs scientific training methods to wring
every last drop of energy from his players as he plots his giant-killing master
A shrewd operator, Jones, whose mother is Japanese, has instilled a sense of
self-belief in Japan, underlined by a run of 10 successive wins last year that
saw them break into the world's top 10 for the first time.
Jones, whose first move after replacing former All Black John Kirwan in 2012
was to reduce the number of foreign players and get Japan playing more to their
strengths, will need all his wiliness if his side is to negotiate a Pool B also
involving South Africa, Samoa, Scotland and the United States.
Head coach of Australia between 2001 and 2005 - and a member of the coaching
staff when the Springboks won the 2007 World Cup - Jones suffered a stroke in
2013 but made a full recovery and has overseen drastic improvement in the
team's fortunes since.
He has been instrumental working behind the scenes on Japan's successful bid
to enter a team in the 2016 Super Rugby competition, insisting Asia's top rugby
nation would be "climbing a mountain" without it as they look to
strengthen the game before hosting the 2019 World Cup.
Never one to bite his tongue, however, Jones pulls no punches about the
obstacles that remain for Japan with the country's youth set-up still in
disarray, blaming parochial short-sightedness for a string of disastrous
results at under-20 level.
Jones led the senior side to a tournament record 121-0 win over the
Philippines in the Asian Five Nations in 2013 but has a tough job to break down
the perception of the Japanese as a soft touch among world rugby's top
The memory of their record 145-17 World Cup defeat by New Zealand in 1995
stalks Japan at every World Cup.
Their latest challenge will prove a test of faith for Jones, who has zero
tolerance for anyone not on board with his philosophies and sees only the
opportunity to leave a lasting impact in his Japan swansong.