Eddie is not just planning to teach Eben how to pass a ball
New Stormers boss appreciates a good defence as much as attack
EDDIE JONES is going to teach Eben Etzebeth how to pass the ball as part of a plan to upskill the Stormers attack.
However, while the man who coached Japan to unprecedented success at the recent World Cup mesmerised the Cape media at his opening press conference on Thursday with talk of “lighting up Newlands”, what may have been lost in translation is that impenetrable defence will form the foundation of the plan.
“This team comes out of Western Province and the tradition is to play rugby,” Jones said. “But that doesn’t mean we want to be any less defensively good than the Stormers were before – they were very good under Allister Coetzee and won three out of five SA Conference titles. We want to add a plus factor to our game.”
The biggest plus in Japan’s rugby history came at the World Cup in September when the Brave Blossoms clinched their first win against the Springboks.
Jones is revered as an attacking mastermind and the magnitude of that victory covered the nuts and bolts of a contest that the underdogs had won by playing less rugby – Japan had less possession, made fewer carries, more tackles and kicked more than the South Africans.
That recipe will be familiar to those who packed into Newlands between 2010 and 2012, the most successful period in Stormers history during which the team won 36 of 49 matches en route to three successive trips to the playoffs.
Jones turned the Brumbies into Super Rugby champions in 2001 and took the Wallabies to the 2003 World Cup final.
While those two teams are rightfully remembered for their attacking strike-power – courtesy of the iconic halfback combination of George Gregan and Stephen Larkham, and legendary outside backs such as Stirling Mortlock and Joe Roff – Jones’ influence was in both cases first evident in fortifying the defence.
The Brumbies finished 10th overall in 1998, scoring 228 points and 29 tries and conceding 308 points and 34 tries. The attack improved by 50 points and four tries the following season, but the dramatic change came on defence where they allowed just 18 tries and 195 points, and finished fifth.
Australia scored half as many tries under Jones in the 2001 Tri-Nations competition as they had under Rod Macqueen the year before, but they conceded fewer points and tries, and retained the trophy. And it was the Wallabies who boasted the best defence at the 2003 World Cup.
Jones’ appreciation for defence won’t allow him to overlook the fact that the Stormers gave up more than twice as many tries this year (41) as they had in 2010 (18).
The steady decline of the attack since the Storm- ers’ only appearance in a final will also not have escaped his attention.
A 49-15 win against the Chiefs in Hamilton and 42- 14 result against the Crusaders in Cape Town were the highlights of a 2010 campaign that netted 39 tries in 15 matches. That number dropped to 34 tries the following season and, by the end of the 2012 season, the Stormers had failed to score more than three tries in a match, finishing with 29 in 17 outings.
Jones wants to revive the Stormers’ trademark defence and
breathe life back into the
attack, and it’s for this reason that the conventional condi
tioning pre-season training will be supplemented with a skills component from the outset.
“Playing attacking rugby is all about skill,” he said. “You have to be able to catch and pass at pace, and consistently make good decisions.”
The perception that South African players lack individual skill is trending at the moment; Jones hinted that the problem doesn’t lay with the players.
“South Africa has always been a country that prides itself on physical rugby and it has held them in good stead, so there’s no reason to say that’s not right,” he said. “But there’s been a tendency in South Africa to pigeon- hole players – if a player can’t pass then they get rid of him instead of working with him.
“No one is naturally skilful, everyone is coached or taught to be skilful. Eben Etzebeth, can’t pass but that doesn’t mean he won’t be taught to pass.”
Like Stormers fans, Queenslanders believe that their team has a tradition of playing an entertaining brand of rugby.
This is perhaps the reason why Jones wasn’t given sufficient latitude or time to reconstruct the Reds in 2007 and, after that team conceded 438 points in 13 games to finish in last place on the standings, he cut short what was supposed to be a three-year stint in Brisbane.
“We’re not going to be fizzing the ball around the park in the first three or four games of the season,” Jones warned.
“It’s going to take time for the players to understand their roles and to develop decision-making and skills.
“But hopefully by the end of the season we’ll be playing the kind of rugby we want to play.”
SO IS THIS MY OFFICE? Eddie Jones will try and ‘light up Newlands’ next year for the Cape supporters.