The wily old Aussie has done a number on his home country in the current test series, and it started before he even stepped on the plane, writes Scotty Stevenson.
It won’t matter what happens in the third test between Australia and England in Sydney this weekend. England has already won the series and anything else is a bonus. More accurately, Eddie Jones has already won the series, because Eddie Jones has been quite happy to make this about Eddie Jones, and he’s done a fine job of that.
A case in point, I just used Eddie Jones’ name three times in the first paragraph which is, of course, just how Eddie Jones would have wanted that paragraph to be written. There are two reasons for this: one, he has a big ego (naturally, and like all coaches) and two, the more we talk about Eddie Jones, the less we talk about his England team which he knows is still a long way off being the genuine force he has convinced people they are.
Not that that fact has stopped him calling out the All Blacks, which he did immediately upon clinching the Australian series, and which he can do with impunity as the two sides aren’t scheduled to meet this season, or next. A good coach knows when he is on safe ground, and there’s no safer ground to be found than that laid upon a lofty comparison which can neither be proved nor disproved.
It has been an artful and mesmerising performance from Eddie Jones. Before he even landed in Australia he was admonishing the English press for their focus on the kicking woes of Owen Farrell during a pre-tour tune up of Wales, and from the moment he touched down he has enjoyed the benefit of a wonderful supporting cast, all reciting their required lines while he has been the star attraction in his own public relations uber-production.
It seems everyone has fallen into line, ready to sip from the cup of Flavor Aid. Welcome to Jonestown!
There has been a master-on-apprentice feel to the entire endeavour across the Tasman. Jones knows Wallaby coach Michael Cheika well, but has many more kilometres on the coaching clock than his former Randwick mate. Cheika – bullish and abrasive, with a lengthy rap sheet of questionable conduct – must have seen this coming, but has been either unwilling to respond in kind, or resigned to the fact that he is powerless to fight back.
Jones wasted no time in going after Cheika, repeatedly calling him ‘the best coach in the world’ in reference to Cheika’s World Rugby honour after last year’s World Cup final loss. As far as compliments go, it was so backhanded it could have hit a match-winner on centre court. Using a guy’s award against him is such a devious trick you can only sit back and admire it, which most people did.
Jones wasted no time in going after Australia’s own rugby broadcaster, Fox Sports, forcing an on-air apology out of former Wallaby Stephen Hoiles after Hoiles tried to steal Jones’ thunder at the post-match press conference following the first test victory in Brisbane. Jones, who claimed to have been insulted by Hoiles, then launched a tirade against the network’s own tongue-in-cheek promo spot of the series, a spot sources say Jones had already viewed and privately enjoyed.
The RFU and the travelling media wasted no time rounding on Fox Sports which was, of course, Jones’ plan all along, but not even he could have believed (or could he?) how quickly the Australian press would also condemn the network stunt, which they did, and savagely so.
There has certainly been no wasting of time on this tour, but there have been plenty of wasted opportunities – mainly from the Australian team in a mistake-ridden performance in Melbourne last week on a ground that should never have passed muster as a test match venue.
Sydney Morning Herald Chief Rugby Reporter Georgina Robinson perfectly summed up the Wallabies performance on Sunday when she wrote:
“Australia were on the wrong end of some dubious penalty calls, but their own mistakes eclipsed any sense of injustice. There were knock-ons, slips and stuff-ups galore, so that their best efforts in attack – and there were some beauties – ended up on the scrap heap.”
However, the kicker in Robinson’s analysis came just one line later:
“England are back with a vengeance, thanks to the truly superior coaching of Jones.”
I don’t want to take issue with Robinson’s work here but Cheika’s coaching can hardly be blamed for his team developing an 80-minute case of the dropsies. It’s not the coaching of Jones that is ‘truly superior’, it is his control of the message.
And speaking of blame and control, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen can hardly be blamed for taking the opportunity to rub Cheika’s face in it, as he did this week when he pointed out that the Wallabies coach had been “bullied” by Eddie Jones. After all, the All Blacks will face the Wallabies (who won the Rugby Championship last year, you may recall) later in the season.
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Hansen is as shrewd as Jones when it comes to winning the PR war – just look at the coverage of the All Blacks and their coach during the Rugby World Cup – and his comments can be viewed two ways: Feel free to up your game against me, Michael Cheika, you’ll have about as much success as you’re currently having against the other bloke. Or, more realistically, keep talking about the All Blacks Eddie Jones, I’m a bit harder to intimidate.
Cheika’s response was instructive: “It’s easy to kick blokes when they are down”, he told the Australian press in the wake of Hansen’s remarks, trying in vain to paint himself as the victim. Sorry, Mr Cheika, but Eddie Jones beat you to that line two weeks ago, too, when he claimed even the Australian Customs officials were trying to undermine his tour. How good is the guy?
On the back of the series win the calls are now coming for Eddie Jones to coach the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand next year, despite his repeated assertions that he is not available for the job. Reading between the lines, one cannot help but feel he is very much open to the job, so long as someone actually begs him to do it. He’s a winner, after all, and he’s already happy to pick the team.
Eddie Jones, the great manipulator, is having the honeymoon of his life, and the homecoming to match.
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