Me and Mr Jones... he has a thing go­ing on

Satur­day Com­ment

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - GAVIN RICH

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.

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