22 The Daily Telegraph Monday 21 September 2020 *** Sport Rugby Union ‘Atomic’ Eddie Jones was my favourite coach – he even bought me a massage In the final part of a series of extracts from his new book, James Haskell shares his memories of the England coach, playing in France and his many injuries Part O f all the coaches I played under for England, I enjoyed Eddie Jones the most. I’d always respected what Eddie had achieved in rugby, but I’d heard he ruled with an iron fist. A few weeks into my first England camp with Eddie, I said to him, “I heard you were like an atomic bomb, ready to go off at any moment.” And he replied, “Nah, I was like that once, but that’s the old Eddie.” He could be fiery but he was also warm, compassionate and empowering. He understood what made each player tick and how to improve them, which is why most players loved him. He strived for perfection but loved characters. We clicked because he treated me with respect and made me feel welcome. Before Eddie, I’d played in some good and bad environments with England. A new head coach will often inherit people instead of clearing things out and building his own team. He will have backroom staff who aren’t necessarily the best but who are safe and amenable and won’t talk back. Eddie is the least RFU man you could get, but the environment he created was the best. In Eddie’s very first training session with England, he suddenly shouted, “What the f--are you lot doing?” Everyone stopped what they were doing and thought, “Oh God, he’s having one of his atomic bomb moments.” But Eddie just said, “Why the f--- are you lot playing rugby league?” No one had the heart to say we were playing the team. Warren Gatland at Wasps understood the need to have a bit of fun, which is why there would be lots of p--- taking during warm-ups before the serious stuff started. And Eddie was similar in that respect. He created an environment that was fun, and I laughed every day I was with him. He’d bring his dog Annie along to training and chase after it during the warm-up, shouting its name. He’d take the p--- out of players during meetings. Once, Eddie made a new I was a bit stiff, and when Eddie saw me he said, “Right, James, you’re resting today.” He was the first coach I’d had who took any notice. He especially looked after the veterans. At breakfast, he’d present me with a protein shake full of greens and say, “Hask, mate, I made this in the blender. You’re old as f---, you need to drink this.” Another time, he took me aside and said, “Old fella, I’ve got a little present for you, because you trained well this week.” He’d got the head conditioning coach to book me in for a massage – not a sports massage but a massage with whale music and candles and scented oils at Pennyhill’s award-winning spa. He did this for the lads he felt needed it. Eddie valued discipline but treated us like adults, which meant we behaved like adults. After the first meeting of a camp or if there was a fallow week, Eddie would encourage us to have a few beers and get to know each other. But even when we won trophies, we didn’t celebrate. We’d have one beer in the changing room, do our recovery, head back to the hotel, maybe have a glass of wine with our partners and go to bed. No one felt the need to get s---faced in a nightclub, because no one wanted to mess up the amazing environment Eddie had created or be kicked out of it. I was loyal to Eddie because he was loyal to me and backed me because I wasn’t vanilla or run of the mill. You don’t want too many controversial players in a squad, but you do want personalities. rugby league because that’s how we’d been coached for the previous four years. Then he pointed at Billy Vunipola and said, “Billy, why the f--- are you passing? Look at the size of you, you’re a f------ unit. Just get the ball and run over the f------ bloke.” Coaches too often focus on what players can’t do, rather than what they can do. But Eddie was the opposite. He used to say to me, “Hask, just carry hard and hit hard. You don’t have to do anything more than that.” Eddie didn’t want us playing rugby league or like New Zealand, because you can’t play that kind of rugby if you don’t have the right kind of players. Instead, his thought process was, “I’ve got giant players with massive strength, which means I’ve got the makings of a monster scrum, a great line-out and aggressive defence. Get those right, and the attack will take care of itself.” Before Eddie, we’d had coaches who fiddled and betrayed their philosophy when performances or results weren’t as expected. That’s what the pressure of professional sport does to most people. Eddie was never too proud to ask for opinions from his players. Because he had total belief in his system and his coaches, including the excellent Steve Borthwick and Paul Gustard, he could be open. He’d call meetings of senior players and say, “Are you enjoying how we’re doing things? Could we be doing anything different? Are you able to communicate with the coaches?” That meant we felt like we had ownership of At breakfast he’d present me with a protein shake full of greens and say, ‘You’re as old as f---, you need to drink this’ player stand up and thank everyone for allowing him to stay in camp for another week. If he noticed some lads laughing at something on a phone, he’d want to have a look. Eddie understood what it meant to look after his players, on and off the pitch. When he asked why I wasn’t filling in the wellness forms we were given by the medical staff every day, and which had survived Stuart Lancaster’s reign, I said, “What’s the point? I could die and someone would drag me onto the training ground.” Eddie said he’d look into it, and presumably had a frank discussion with the doctor. A few days later I wrote down that
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