Keeping up with the Jones joker
Eddie Jones made quite a scene last weekend.
Within minutes of England squeezing past South Africa 12-11 at Twickenham, Jones clambered up on his soapbox, puffed out his chest and talked up his team’s chances of beating the All Blacks.
It was an extraordinary display of bravado. Other coaches might have taken a more humble approach, but not Jones.
His Englishmen were not going to be intimidated by the All Blacks, a team good enough to be named World Rugby’s topranked team for eight years running, when they meet at ‘HQ’ in London tomorrow.
Fair enough. If you don’t possess selfconfidence in test footy, you may as well join the pie-eaters in a president’s grade club team.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen could have publicly questioned whether Jones had been overcome by emotion, given England didn’t score any tries and were fortunate not to concede a late penalty when Owen Farrell launched a crude tackle in the final play of the game.
Oh, no. Hansen turned the other cheek. In fact he almost welcomed Jones’ comments, saying he had every right to instil confidence in his side.
But what message will Hansen be issuing to his team behind closed doors? True, no All Blacks coach should have to say too much ahead of a test against England, but if he feels the need to lift the tension another notch he could remind the players that Jones has been yapping and ask: ‘‘What are you going to do about it?’’
England will take heart from the fact that their last two victories have been against South Africa, who beat the All Blacks in Wellington and should have done so again in Pretoria. Setting aside the fact that they lost the June series in the Republic 2-1, and finished second last in the Six Nations, England proved they don’t lack courage last weekend and the Red Rose supporters at Twickenham will want to once again play their part.
‘‘There will be 80,000 people there singing songs,’’ Hansen said. ‘‘And the only way we can quieten them is by dominating. So at some point they are going to be singing, because we won’t
dominate for the whole 80 minutes.’’
The All Blacks will be good enough in the set pieces to claim their own ball.
Getting their technique right at the breakdowns – shifting big opponents quickly – will be a must.
Starting Damian McKenzie at fullback to add a counter-attack from the back and share the kicking duties with Beauden Barrett is a bold move. McKenzie is sure to be tested with high kicks, and getting isolated cannot be an option.
Jones has brought Chris Ashton on to the wing in place of Jack Nowell, loosehead prop Ben Moon is rewarded with his first test start and Sam Underhill replaces injured flanker Tom Curry.
England might be conservative and lack the flair of New Zealand, but if they build momentum and get the ascendancy through their structured game they could be very difficult to stop. As South Africa discovered, if teams don’t take their chances it fuels England’s resolve.
It’s imperative the All Blacks don’t concede cheap penalties and if they are provoked, they must dance a fine line. Under no circumstances can they allow themselves to be bullied, but if they concede cheap penalties there is potential to gift Farrell an easy three points.
‘‘We saw at the weekend how important discipline is,’’ Hansen said. ‘‘It could have cost England couldn’t have it? So every test match is the same, if you allow yourself to go to places you don’t need to or get overaroused and start getting offside and those sorts of things you just give them easy points.
‘‘England has got good kickers. In games like this – everyone has to earn. You don’t want to give it to them.’’
England coach Eddie Jones has been in an upbeat mood all week about his team’s prospects against the All Black.