Cape Town – The inevitable inquiry diplomatically came some three or four questions into Eddie Jones’s first press conference as Stormers head coach here on Thursday, even as the franchise’s logo and various sponsorship stamps stood out brightly on his blue polo shirt.
There had been interest from “around the world” in the mastermind of Japan’s surprise-package RWC 2015 campaign, so was he really nailed down at Newlands?
“Never believe what the paper say, mate,” replied the man from Burnie, Tasmania, with a twinkle in his eyes ... but seemingly comforting assuredness for Capetonians, nevertheless.
Well inside 24 hours earlier, of course, the coveted England job had come up for grabs, following official confirmation of the departure of Stuart Lancaster – and both bookies and British public very quickly made known their affection for Jones among speculative replacement candidates.
A little later, the subject of Twickenham links was visited more specifically by one scribe, and this time the former Randwick club hooker chose an unmistakable local landmark to indicate the legitimacy of his new loyalty to a regular “nearly” team of Super Rugby.
“I woke up this morning and looked out at Table Mountain,” said Jones with some enthusiasm, as if to remind that the best things in life come free (not that he is likely to have put pen to paper at Boundary Road on any complimentary basis, of course). “I’m committed to the Stormers.”
There was plenty of other music for the ears of sometimes long-suffering, yet famously loyal Stormers fans, and not only because Jones – just like his long-time predecessor Allister Coetzee – comes across affably in a public relations capacity.
He seemed especially keen to emphasise the establishment of “a real Stormers style of rugby ... I want them to play like Stormers, not like the Brumbies, or like Japan”.
He is clearly well-versed in the broader traditions of Western Province: “They have been about attacking rugby; I want us to be a good attacking team. You want your traditional South African type of base, but also a Western Province flavour to things.
“It takes longer to produce (an adventurous style), but that is where we want to go.”
Expect some changes to the way his charges are conditioned, and to methods he admitted might be rather more in line with Australian and New Zealand teams with a decreased emphasis on pure brawn: “I want them to be able to play with tempo ... it’s about getting back in the game quickly ... getting numbers of players on their feet fast.”
Jones was clearly not going to linger for too long on the issue of transformation and the general “political morass”, as one bull-necked critic put it, of Western Cape rugby, skip-passing deftly to his (absent) director of rugby Gert Smal.
“Gert will help me a lot ... (transformation) will be a normal part of what we do,” said Jones, with anything but the long-windedness you might expect of someone like Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula on the ever-vexing topic.
One thing seemed unsurprisingly apparent of this proven pro of rugby union coaching: he did not come to the Cape completely cold on his available playing resources.
For instance, even in the extended afterglow of Japan’s brave and eye-catching World Cup, Jones has found time to educate himself to a good extent on the playing personnel he will inherit at Newlands.
“I have seen six of seven of this year’s Currie Cup games,” the 55-year-old revealed, while adding that youth was a strong theme in the squad. “Apart from someone like Schalk (Burger), of course, there aren’t too many players who come up short in the hair department. There’s lots of young potential here.”
He believes he has the necessary nucleus for a stern Stormers title challenge in 2016, doing an impromptu run through some of his pack elements as a starting point.
First recipient of praise, interestingly, was Springbok tighthead prop Frans Malherbe, who he felt had a high-calibre World Cup and would be “base of a solid scrum”.
The physical proportions of his likely starting locks, Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit, earned his awe: “The two of them together ... bigger than the whole Japan team!”
Jones enthused that they could be a wonderfully balanced combination, while cautioning sagely that learning was also a never-ending exercise.
“Schalk, Kolisi, Carr, Elstadt ... there’s good depth at (loose forward) as well.”
He confirmed to this writer that the captaincy – a significant void having been left for 2016 by departed Jean de Villiers and Duane Vermeulen – would be an announcement reserved for another day.
“I think it’s an exciting time for the Stormers in that you’ve got this bunch of young guys who are now in a position to develop a new leadership group, and these can take some time to develop.
“Sometimes it takes six months, sometimes it takes you six years. Let’s hope it’s not six years.
“I will talk to the assistant coaches – Fleckie and Russell (Winter) and Vlok (Cilliers) and Paul (Treu) -- and work out who the best captain is, and the guys who can then support him. That might take until the end of pre-season. I don’t have a set timetable.”
So that’s it, really: think we can safely say that Eddie’s landed?
Me, I might keep my own answer until after my lunch break.
But Table Mountain did look a picture this morning ...
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