Eddie Jones has a well-deserved reputation for psychological warfare but, ten months before the next Calcutta Cup, the voluble England coach has started early even by his standards. In an interview with the mass-circulation Japanese paper, Asahi Shimbun, Jones talked about his very first Six Nations game against Scotland at Murrayfield and was dismissive of the hosts.
“It was a game I always thought we’d win,” the Australian told the paper’s London corespondent. “I don’t see Scotland being a strong team. You look at Scotland at the World Cup, who did they beat? They were lucky to beat Samoa, they beat USA, they beat us (Japan), and we had four days’ preparation, and they were beaten by Australia and South Africa.
“So, they didn’t have a great World Cup, but everyone was talking as though they were a fantastic team. England didn’t have a bad World Cup but we’re a stronger team than they are.”
That said, Jones also admitted that everything he said to the press was done so with another audience in mind – “when you talk to the media, for me, I’m talking to the players” – and he conceded that Scotland are never easy to beat in front of their own crowd.
On the day the Scots under-performed with a host of handling errors, the scrum count was 12-1 in England’s favour, and still Scotland finished just six behind the visitors, which suggests England were vulnerable. When asked about his insistence ahead of that game that England were the underdogs Jones was unrepentant.
“That was just for fun,” he confessed.
Jones underlined the importance of winning that first game above all else while claiming that while England are preparing for the 2019 World Cup in Japan they may lose a few as they try different things. Japan lost three of their four Pacific Nations Cup matches before stunning the Springboks, and the rest of the rugby world, in last year’s World Cup.
“When you take over a team, the more wins you get, the more you get the players to believe in what has happened,” said the England coach. “When you get that belief to grow, you can change things. So that was the most important job I had to do, just find ways to win.
“The thing about winning is it gives players confidence, it is a great thing. Confidence in a national sport is everything. Belief and confidence is everything. There’ll be times during the rest of the four years where we will sacrifice winning to prepare for the World Cup.”
Jones was recently criticised by Waratahs’ coach Daryl Gibson for leaving Australian back play in a mess because, when he was in charge of the Wallabies, the gameplan was so strictly structured it bred a generation of players whose decision-making skills are below those of the Kiwis.
Predictably enough, Jones hit back at Gibson, saying he was riding former Waratahs coach Michael Cheika’s coattails in Sydney, but he also conceded in the Asahi interview that he wants England to play more attacking rugby and that when they came under pressure in the Six Nations they tended to revert to type, hoofing and hoping.
“When we get under pressure we go back to traditionally kicking the ball, and waiting for the opposition to make a mistake. We were a little bit better towards the end of the tournament, but we are still... that’s an area we’ve got to change.”
Jones talked about how Australian players are more independently minded than their Japanese or English rivals and how he tries to make the current England stars more assertive. He defends his choice of Dylan Hartley as skipper – “when they are strong England are always aggressive” – and he is obviously proud of how far Japanese rugby has come in the last few years.
The country is best known for offering a pension pot to fading, former All Blacks but now Japan is exporting players including the likes of prop Kensuke Hatakeyama at Newcastle Falcons, breakaway Lelei Mafi at Bath and one of the stars of the World Cup, Ayuma Goromaru, who plies his trade for the Queensland Reds in Super Rugby. According to his former coach the classy full-back wouldn’t even speak to foreign players when he first started out in Japanese club rugby.
With a Grand Slam at the first attempt Jones is currently the darling of the English media but his team have a tough looking three-Test series in Australia this summer and England’s scribblers can turn from Dandie Dinmont to Doberman before you can say whitewash.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Jones replied breezily, “and I don’t worry about it. That’s a good thing. You coach for a long period of time only if you’re very emotionally tough.”