England coach Eddie Jones cranks up pressure on New Zealand

Eddie Jones says his England side have nothing to lose when they face New Zealand in the World Cup semi-finals. Picture: Getty
Eddie Jones says his England side have nothing to lose when they face New Zealand in the World Cup semi-finals. Picture: Getty
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Eddie Jones might have been back in the classroom at the International Grammar School in Sydney, where he first worked as a teacher with a degree in education, majoring in PE and geography, long before rugby coaching took him to sporting fame and fortune. There was no whiteboard on which England’s Aussie boss could write the title of his lecture doubling as a media conference yesterday but everyone present knew it to be: “Pressure on the All Blacks and how to apply it.”

The particular moment when some of sport’s most experienced television and print journalists temporarily felt 15 years old again came as Mr Jones asked everyone in the room to put their hands up if they thought England could beat New Zealand in the World Cup semi-finals this Saturday. No one did – not because it is considered impossible, but because it has been a while since any of us was in a blazer and short trousers.

Still it was an object lesson in setting an agenda, with substance from Jones amid a stream of quips and quibbles. Most interestingly, he revealed how long he had been thinking of how to win this weekend. “I can remember being in Kyoto [for the World Cup draw] two and a half years ago,” Jones said, “and even an Australian could do the mathematics that we were going to play New Zealand in a semi-final. Progressively we’ve built a game that we think we can take New Zealand with.

“Thirteen of our players went on the [2017] Lions tour. They know they [the All Blacks] are human, [that] they bleed, they drop balls, they miss tackles like every other player.

“I don’t think they are vulnerable, but pressure is a real thing. The busiest bloke in Tokyo this week will be 
Gilbert Enoka, their mental-skills coach. They have to deal with winning the World Cup three times and it is potentially the last game for their greatest coach [Steve Hansen] and their greatest captain [Kieran Read].

“New Zealand talk about walking towards pressure – well, this week the pressure is going to be chasing them down the street. That’s how we’re approaching it.

“We’ve got nothing to lose, we can just go out there and play our game. If we’re good enough, we’ll win; if we’re not good enough, we’ve done our best.”

And this was perfection in the phoney war: everything to gain, but with a get-out clause.

Jones also said there had been a cameraman – possibly sent by the All Blacks, he didn’t appear to know – in a block of flats watching England train, and it was pointless and he had not spied on opponents since 2001.

Across town, in a media conference a quarter-hour ahead of this one, Hansen – whose country won the World Cup in 1987, 2011 and 2015 whereas England have done it once in 2003 – was making a comment well worth listening to, about the selfish Six Nations rejecting a global calendar which would have allowed his team to face England more often and share the resulting cash. “Then they’d be starting to think about the game [of rugby union], rather than themselves,” Hansen grumbled. “There’s a headline for you.”

Sorry, Steve, not this time – and the media will now be agog to receive his response to Jones when each coach announces their team tomorrow. The Kiwi must choose whether it is worth trying to regain the front foot, and how to do it.

There was one other reason to feel young again yesterday. England are based this week at a hotel next to Japan’s Disney Resort in Tokyo Bay, and the route out from the city ends on a toytown train with windows in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head and, on the day Japan enthroned its first new emperor in almost 30 years, “A Whole New World” played on sugar-sweet strings through the speakers.

“It’s a change in the history of Japan,” Jones said, as he packed away his marker pen. “And now we are going to have a change in the history of the World Cup. It’s nice symmetry – and I do believe in omens.”