Analysing Eddie Jones’ first press conference in Australia, Rugby World Cup, Bledisloe Cup, grassroots, video
When Steve Borthwick was announced as England manager, Eddie Jones’ former right-hand man said the biggest thing he learned from his predecessor was his clarity.
Borthwick, who coached with Jones at two World Cup campaigns, highlighted the week ahead of England’s semi-final against the All Blacks in 2019.
“Usually we would have a conversation about game plans and thoughts, ideas and what we need to do. Often the assistant coaches would present it and say this is the plan, this is what we have to do. Eddie walked in that day and said ‘we’re playing New Zealand on Saturday, all we have to do is one, two and three’,” recalls Borthwick.
“‘If we do one, two, three, we will win this weekend. We have to get the detail right to do one, two, three, but that’s what we have to do’, and you can see that in everybody. The clarity in the room that was given to the coaches and the players to do one, two, three and that clarity of intent, that was one incredible circumstance. I could talk about a lot, but that clarity [stood out].”
Jones got straight to the point on Tuesday about what his first few months have entailed as he prepares to take the Wallabies to the World Cup in September.
“There are three big things,” he said.
“One, the staff, two, the players and three, the way we play.”
However, those looking for the answers to the first two things need not have bothered to come. It will come, in time.
Instead, Jones, back at high school where his love of rugby was cemented alongside the Ella brothers – Mark and Glen and Gary – lit up a room with his reflections on Australian rugby and how the nation can once again become a rugby powerhouse. . more.
“Australian rugby has gone through difficult times before. It’s not unusual,” he said.
“If you just look back to when the Ellas came through, in 1977 they played Matraville High and in 1978 they played Australian schoolboys. They won everything in the UK and it started a movement in Australian rugby.
“At some point around that period, Australia was beaten by Tonga [the Sydney] cricket field
“They [the Ellas] change the way the game was played. They changed that spirit of Australian rugby, which was a bit of a mismatch between NSW and Queensland.
“They changed it back to an aggressive running style of rugby and they changed the fortunes of Australian rugby which culminated in the grand slam in 1984 with the world’s best coach in Alan Jones. His only rival is Clive Woodward, but they have a good way with each other. One of them will work out who is the best coach.
“Australia finally won the World Cup in 1991 and then in 1999 we won the World Cup. We want to start that period again.
“We don’t lack talented players here, but talent doesn’t win World Cups. What win World Cups and win the hearts of people are teams that play with the same spirit that the Ellas had. To be aggressive, to play with a certain panache.
“It doesn’t mean you run with the ball all the time, because kicking can be as artistic as running the ball. We want to play with a certain panache. We want to play tough, so at the end of tough games you win those tough games. This is the traditional Australian digging spirit. We want that in the team and this is the opportunity for the players this year.
“Where can we take the team? If we play like this, people will want to watch rugby again. Mark [Ella] said he didn’t want to come watch us play until we played well. We need Mark to be on the ground. That’s good to hear. We want that pressure on ourselves. We want to act. I am only a small part of it.”
In one response, Jones spoke about his vision for the game in Australia.
In 30 minutes, he did what former CEO Raelene Castle and head coach Dave Rennie couldn’t do in three years in their respective roles.
He noted the importance of making 2023 a “line in the sand” moment for the game Down Under and bringing everyone from the mums and dads who cook the sausages to those who “paint the lines” to join come and do their part.
He spoke about the importance of nurturing the grassroots, opening avenues for greater Indigenous representation in the game and the important role the Wallabies have played in ensuring Australians, including his old mate Mark Ella, are proud of their team and rugby in a crowded sports market.
“I am not the messiah,” he declared.
“Everybody’s in this together and we’re all in this together, but sometimes you just need someone to beat the drum to get people going faster and maybe that’s the role right now.”
Despite not naming any of his assistant coaches, Jones will have a good idea of who he’s looking for and what he wants from them.
He will meet with them on Thursday, but how much of the Dave Rennie era survives remains to be seen.
Dan McKellar, at least for the short term, is considered by some to be an important figure in the continuity of the team given his deep understanding of the current players, his coaching pedigree and the fact that he runs a program himself.
Laurie Fisher’s service to Australian rugby and his technical knowledge surrounding the collapse are believed to be appreciated.
But Petrus du Plessis’ future at the Wallabies as scrum coach is shaky, with Brumbies forward coach and former Wallaby prop Dan Palmer highly regarded.
Jones knows the importance of the set-piece, having watched his England team smash the scrum against the Springboks in the World Cup final and, most recently, his final Test at Twickenham.
Jones’ former scrum coach at England, Matt Proudfoot, who oversaw the Springboks’ World Cup success in 2019, said he felt responsible for the Australian’s knock-down after they conceded another blow in the set-piece.
“I really regret that game [against the Boks],” Proudfoot recently told the Daily Mail.
“The scrum didn’t fire. It felt like the final of 2019 all over again. If we had been more successful in scrum time, things would have been different. And if we had won that game, we might all still be there, back in the cold weather of England.
“I feel responsible. I wouldn’t change choice, but I would change the way I coached the scrum that week. Less technical, more abrasive.
“I take it upon myself. I prioritized the technical side that week, changed the engagement sequence to something faster and I put speed as the big rock we were chasing. Maybe I should have rushed the fight instead. I take it upon myself.”
Wallabies tighthead prop Allan Alaalatoa recently described Palmer as the best scrum coach he had ever worked under, while Brumbies head coach Stephen Larkham said he was regarded as one of the world’s best and Australian rugby was lucky to keep him after being chased overseas.
That’s why Palmer, who spent time coaching Suntory in December, looms as one of the changes in the coming weeks.
Who replaces Scott Wisemantel, who abruptly resigned at the beginning of the month, remains to be seen.
Jones is likely to have linked up with Wisemantel, who previously worked with him at the Wallabies, Japan and England, but the respected assistant is unlikely to return any time soon.
But he does have options at home and abroad ranging from Chris Whitaker to Stephen Larkham, Andy Friend and Peter Hewat, or left-field options such as Matt Giteau and Glen Ella.
Bringing in someone with a rugby league background also remains a distinct possibility.
As for the players, Jones stayed away from the details of players and the leadership.
He left the door wide open for youngsters to grab the bull by the horns, noting emerging Waratahs playmakers Tane Edmed and Ben Donaldson, while specifically mentioning overseas-based professionals such as Quade Cooper and Bernard Foley, as well as the Reds -veteran James O’Connor and Brumbies No.10 Noah Lolesio.
He added: “It’s going to be competitive but we’ll definitely have to decide the hierarchy of 10s because that cohesion part that Ben Darwin makes a living from – he had to make a living from something – he made a life of cohesion. But it is true what he says.
“You want cohesion, especially in the backbone of your team, so we’ll try to get there as quickly as we can.”
Jones was emphatic about one other area: mental scars.
While Michael Cheika previously believed the Wallabies were affected by the poor results at Super Rugby, Jones, who admitted the “emotional state” of his players was something that could turn losses into wins, said mental scars were not a factor in professional sports.
He highlighted the Springboks’ turnaround under Rassie Erasmus ahead of the 2019 World Cup as proof that quick turnarounds can happen.
“Just look at the Springboks in 2018; I think in 2016, 17 and 18 the Springboks had a winning record of under 30%. Rassie Erasmus comes in, sets TikTok on fire and changes the team,” he said.
“It changed the team and they immediately went from probably the worst team in the Rugby Championship to World Cup champions.
“Mental scars are not a factor in sports. It is the ability of a player to want to be at their best that is the most important thing. All we want are players who want to be at their best and if they want to be at their best then any previous experience will do.
“I’m not worried about its history. I’m worried about the team going forward, coming together with the culture we want, being tough against each other and the opposition and those close losses will turn into close wins.”
One thing is for sure, Jones doesn’t care about his perception, what has been said about him in the past or what his critics still believe.
From talk of players bringing mirrors to camp to misconceptions and even the negativity dished out by his namesake Alan Jones, Jones would not have survived two decades as an international coach if he had taken every comment to heart.
He subscribes to Bob Dwyer’s belief that if you start listening to them, you join them.