Me and Mr Jones... he has a thing going on
WILL the last man out of London please turn off the lights? It’s hard to imagine it for such a big city, but I did half expect someone to issue that instruction as I headed towards Heathrow five days after the final whistle had sounded on the biggest rugby show on earth.
It was the third successive time I have left a World Cup host country several days after the tournament ended. I should have learnt my lesson by now. Once the hype has died down and all the foreign rugby people have left town, it is hard not fall prey to feelings of melancholy. The thought that it will be another four years before the excitement around the sport again reaches that level of intensity can leave one feeling bereft.
But cheer up sports lovers, for there is always something new around the corner to get revved up about, and I was reminded of that when I stumbled in my sleeping pill induced daze – can’t do a long haul flight without them – into the arrival hall of Cape Town International on Thursday to discover that Eddie Jones had been on the same flight.
Now that is something to look forward to – a Stormers team coached by someone who should not only be equipped to bring a much-needed new dimension to their play, and in so doing also show the rest of South Africa that it is possible, but who also ended the World Cup as perhaps the most coveted coach on the circuit.
Which brings up a point that does need to be mentioned, and which I am not sure Eddie appreciated me mentioning when we greeted each other on Thursday: Some of my sources in England tell me that while the RFU are going about the façade of undertaking an inquiry into the World Cup performance and Stuart Lancaster is still employed, the man they really want is Mr Jones.
So hopefully WP director of rugby Gert Smal has Jones signed and sealed, for if I was running England rugby, there’d be a lot of money I’d be prepared to throw in his direction in order to tempt him to exchange the Cape south easter with the English rain and sleet.
John Mitchell was the man I had in mind when I argued for the Stormers to chase a foreign coach earlier in the year. I spent several months with the guy writing his book and believe he has learned from the mistakes of his past, besides which of course he would have had Smal with him to buffer some of the off-field pressures which have made life difficult for the New Zealander elsewhere.
But Jones perfectly fits what the Stormers, and by extension South African rugby as a whole, needs right now. And as the Bulls are currently engaging Mitchell in discussions geared towards drawing on his expertise to help them improve their attacking game, then it is all good.
The more foreign influence there is across the spectrum in South African rugby so much the better for the Springboks.
Bok incumbent Heyneke Meyer did redeem some lost pride by guiding the team from the disaster of the defeat to Japan to a semi-final, but let us not get duped into over-hyping his achievement. Meyer’s Boks didn’t beat anyone on the road to that semi-final that we shouldn’t have expected them to beat.
Meyer employed backs- to- thewall motivation in getting the Boks that far. Even before the USA game – where the US put out a secondstring team – Meyer was playing the backs-to-the-wall card. After what happened against Japan few would blame him, but if South Africa is to boast a national team that can reach the heights it is capable of reaching, the inward-looking philosophies of the past have to be abandoned.
Don’t ever neglect your traditional strength, but if you start to focus only on your traditional strength, which is what Meyer did when he entered his crisis-management phase following the defeat to Argentina in August, then you risk turning that traditional strength into a traditional weakness.
Not all foreign coaches have worked out in South Africa. Former All Black coach Laurie Mains was a difficult person and wasn’t well liked when he coached the Lions. He would never have been on the Christmas card list of one of his star players, Rassie Erasmus, and he didn’t last. Neither did Mitchell, although if you read the book, it’s hard to blame him for what went wrong between him and the Lions.
However, Mains and Mitchell both took the Lions to success comparative to where they’d been before, and let’s not forget that it was when Jones was introduced in 2007 that Jake White’s Boks started to play the more complete game that won them the World Cup. It is interesting to note, too, that the side that won the Super 14 that same year, Meyer’s Bulls, had an Australasian attack coach in the form of Todd Louden. Surely there’s something in all of that.
It’s time to sweep away xenophobia when it comes to appointing coaches, and appoint the best regardless of where they are from. If Jones is successful in the Cape, it will have positive ramifications for rugby in more than just this region.