Eddie Jones: A coach under fire
(CNN) — He was touted as the savior of English rugby, but at the moment Eddie Jones is searching for a second coming as England coach.
The 58-year-old Australian — with the no-nonsense attitude, the deep well of pithy retorts, and the winning rugby resume — is under fire.
Before Saturday’s third Test 25-10 win over South Africa, England had lost its previous five matches. It was a run that contributed to the 2-1 series defeat in South Africa.
But Jones remains as combative as ever.
“These are the periods you look forward to where everyone thinks you’re done and you have to find a way to win,” he told reporters ahead of the third Test in South Africa.
“I’m enjoying it, loving it, absolutely loving it. Every job is the same. When you are doing well, everyone pats you on the back. When you are not doing well you’re pulling knives out of your back. That’s the reality of it.”
For many observers, however, the much-traveled Jones is on borrowed time.
Ups and downs
The Tasmania-born Jones was appointed following England’s disastrous showing at the 2015 World Cup, having masterminded Japan’s shock victory against South Africa in the pool stage.
The win for the “Cherry Blossoms” enhanced the reputation of the street-wise coach who took Australia to the final of the World Cup in 2003, only to lose to Clive Woodward’s England. He was also an advisor to the World Cup-winning South Africa side in 2007, largely credited with inspiring the Springboks back play.
A former player — at hooker — with Sydney’s Randwick and then New South Wales, Jones gave up his job in teaching to go into coaching. He began at Randwick before moving to Japan — land of his mother’s birth — eventually becoming assistant for the Japanese national side.
Back in Australia, his first big club coaching role came with the ACT Brumbies, who he guided to the Super 12 title in 2001.
He took over Australia shortly after, but following the highs of the World Cup final, the Wallabies hit a slump and Jones’ contract was terminated in 2005.
There were other lows, too. Jones had a torrid time at the Queensland Reds in 2007, finishing bottom of the league. And after early promise, he aborted a stint with English club side Saracens, citing “personal reasons,” in 2009.
Lapping it up
Returning to Japan, he took over as the national coach and revamped the set-up. His approach paid dividends, culminating in that spectacular 34-32 World Cup win over the Springboks.
After the tournament Jones took up a post with South African side Stormers, but after eight days England came calling for a replacement for embattled Word Cup coach Stuart Lancaster.
The impish Jones couldn’t resist taking the reins of his old foe.
It seemed like the perfect fit. Jones wielded a broom among the established backroom staff, upped the fitness training and instilled a winning mentality.
He brought former England lock Steve Borthwick with him from the Japan set-up and took on Paul Gustard as another of his assistants. The attitude mirrored Jones — hard-nosed and ruthless — and the transformed team quickly clinched a first grand slam since 2003.
The English rugby public were lapping it up. Every interview with Jones, eyes sparkling, threw up another great one-liner.
That summer England toured Australia and beat the Wallabies 3-0. For Jones, a coach for hire, there was no emotion in beating his homeland, only satisfaction at a job done.
Back against the wall
England won all its matches that autumn to end the year unbeaten. Jones’ men went into the 2017 Six Nations on a roll. But the first chink in the armour came when they lost the grand slam decider to Ireland in Dublin. England still won the Six Nations, but the defeat ended an 18-match winning streak.
This season, England only won two of its five games for its worst Six Nations finish.
Questions were beginning to be asked. A leaked video from a private corporate event showed Jones making disparaging remarks about Ireland and Wales. The heat was turned up on Jones, who had to issue an apology.
Rumours of discontent behind the scenes were rife, fueled by the decision of Gustard to leave to take up a role with Harlequins. Training regimes, which seemed to result in an unusually high number of injuries, were also questioned.
As defeats piled up, Jones met media inquisitors with increasing brevity and sarcasm. Two further defeats in South Africa have just increased the intensity.
After the England’s first Test defeat by South Africa, Jones was also involved in a verbal spat with South African fans. “They’ve always got something to say here,” Jones told Sky Sports.
The England coach later told reporters: “I asked the fan where I can get a good bottle of Pinotage and I’m still waiting for the answer. If someone can help me out, please help me out.”
Detractors say it is history repeating itself. The Rugby Football Union insists it has no plans to review Jones’ position.
But with just 15 months until the next World Cup, the Australian’s back is firmly against the wall.
He’ll tell you he wouldn’t have it any other way.
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