Straight talk­ing and scary train­ing: the in­side story of the ‘Ed­die Show’

Re­veals how com­bustible coach broke Eng­land to re­mould them in his im­age with one aim in mind – win­ning the World Cup

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Total Rugby -

The view, Ian Ritchie had to ad­mit, was breath­tak­ing. It was Nov 14, 2015, and the Rugby Foot­ball Union’s then chief ex­ec­u­tive had trav­elled to Cape Town, mak­ing sure his ar­rival on a Bri­tish Air­ways flight from Heathrow had gone un­re­ported.

As he ar­rived at a face­less meet­ing room at Cape Town’s Ta­ble Bay Ho­tel, he glanced out of the win­dow and was con­fronted by the loom­ing pres­ence of Ta­ble Moun­tain. Not that Ritchie had time for sight­see­ing: in­stead, the view was a re­minder of the suit­ably mon­u­men­tal task that was fac­ing him in South Africa – per­suad­ing Ed­die Jones to take over as Eng­land’s head coach.

Forty-two days ear­lier, Eng­land had been hu­mil­i­at­ingly dumped out of their own World Cup fol­low­ing de­feats by Wales and Aus­tralia in the pool stage. The re­crim­i­na­tions had been long and bit­ter, lead­ing ul­ti­mately to Stu­art Lan­caster’s de­par­ture as coach. Only days ear­lier Jones, who had just started his new job as head coach of the Storm­ers – Cape Town’s Su­per Rugby fran­chise – had dis­missed spec­u­la­tion link­ing him to the Eng­land post. By way of ex­pla­na­tion, he ob­served: “I look out on to Ta­ble Moun­tain and think of how lucky I am to be here.”

Yet here was Ritchie, ex­hausted from his 6,000-mile jour­ney and now anx­iously wait­ing for Jones to ar­rive and dis­cover if he could ful­fil the task he had been set by the RFU board – con­vinc­ing the Aus­tralian to swap the Cape for Twick­en­ham.

Since Eng­land’s World Cup exit and Lan­caster’s de­par­ture, Ritchie had con­ducted sig­nif­i­cant due dili­gence on po­ten­tial suc­ces­sors and Jones had been the out­stand­ing can­di­date. All the re­search con­firmed that Eng­land needed a proven world-class coach, hav­ing en­dured suc­ces­sive World Cup dis­ap­point­ments un­der rel­a­tively in­ex­pe­ri­enced home-grown head coaches in Martin John­son and Lan­caster.

English en­thu­si­asm for Jones was un­der­stand­able. He was fresh from in­spir­ing Ja­pan to one of the great­est up­sets in World Cup his­tory, a stun­ning vic­tory over South Africa in Brighton in the pool stages, and had pre­vi­ously taken Aus­tralia to a World Cup fi­nal in 2003, and helped South Africa win in 2007 as a con­sul­tant. Se­nior Spring­bok play­ers had said since that his im­pact was crit­i­cal to their suc­cess.

Yet it was his im­pact with Ja­pan, who had fin­ished their 2015 World Cup cam­paign with just one loss, against Scot­land, that had con­vinced Ritchie he was the right man. He wanted a coach who could han­dle the unique pres­sures of a World Cup.

“Ian chose Ed­die be­cause, on pa­per, he ticked all the boxes for the cri­te­ria he had laid out,” an RFU in­sider said. “Who wasn’t im­pressed with how he coached Ja­pan at the 2015 World Cup? There was no one else in the frame, Ian wanted Ed­die and was de­ter­mined to get him. The board said to go and get who­ever you want but make sure you do it quickly and it is the right choice.”

Ritchie’s anx­i­ety in Cape Town had been mis­placed. Jones saw the role as an op­por­tu­nity to make an im­pact, pick­ing up a team on their knees. The swift­ness of his de­ci­sion

– the deal was ef­fec­tively struck when Ritchie met Jones’s agent, Craig Liv­ing­stone, later that day – would be in­dica­tive of his sin­gle-minded ap­proach over the next four years.

“It was a sig­nif­i­cant risk for the RFU to go for a for­eign coach and one with a rep­u­ta­tion for an abra­sive ap­proach,” a Twick­en­ham in­sider said. “He was a hired gun and that is how he also views him­self. He is not here to build re­la­tion­ships with the Premier­ship clubs or in­dulge in pol­i­tick­ing with the RFU coun­cil or man­age­ment board. His en­tire ten­ure has been dom­i­nated by a sin­gle aim: win the World Cup in Ja­pan.”

It did not take long for Jones to make his mark. The three as­sis­tant coaches, Andy Far­rell, Gra­ham Rown­tree and Mike Catt, were let go and Steve Borth­wick, who had been part of his man­age­ment team with Ja­pan, was con­tro­ver­sially prised from Bris­tol, where he had just started a new job. Paul Gus­tard, re­garded as one of the best young English coaches, was also re­cruited from Sara­cens. But the first real sign of his in­ten­tion to do things on his own terms and in his own way came with the ap­point­ment of Dy­lan Hart­ley, a player with an in­fa­mous dis­ci­plinary record, as the public face of his squad as cap­tain, re­plac­ing the clean-cut Chris Rob­shaw, whose lead­er­ship dur­ing the World Cup had come in for heavy crit­i­cism.

Rob­shaw sur­vived the cull as a rein­vented blind­side flanker but Jones would come to draw heav­ily on Hart­ley’s lead­er­ship, even when there were calls from out­side the camp for Jamie Ge­orge, the Sara­cens hooker, to be given a start on the grounds of form.

“There were no is­sues,” one source said. “Ian’s view was Ed­die picks the team and Ed­die picks the cap­tain. It was the first sign that he would do it his way and he did it be­fore he had even moved to Eng­land full-time. This was go­ing to be the Ed­die Show.”

The play­ers’ first taste of that “show” came at a meet­ing at their train­ing base, the Pen­ny­hill Park Ho­tel in Bagshot, Sur­rey, in Jan­uary. The squad were des­o­late and des­per­ate from their World Cup hu­mil­i­a­tion and craved the strong lead­er­ship that Jones brought. He of­fered the unique com­bi­na­tion of “putting the fear of God” into them but also mak­ing them be­lieve in them­selves.

He had al­ready held one-to-one meet­ings, dur­ing which his at­ten­tion to de­tail and re­search into their back­grounds quickly be­came ev­i­dent. Ben Youngs, for ex­am­ple, was deemed by Jones to be too un­fit to be his scrum-half, a point he un­der­lined in his own inim­itable fash­ion.

“He threw a bag of sweets at me,” Youngs re­called. “I am ac­tu­ally a choco­late man, although I have never told him that! He then ad­dressed the whole squad and just said, ‘Boys, we have got an op­por­tu­nity to win the World Cup in 2019. I have come here be­cause I have got a squad and I have seen this team.’ I re­mem­ber be­ing in awe of what he was say­ing. I thought, ‘I be­lieve in what he is say­ing. I want to be part of this.’”

The rev­o­lu­tion was swift. Jones rises at 5am most days and is no­to­ri­ous for send­ing emails to his coaches as soon as he is up

– and for ex­pect­ing a quick re­sponse. Play­ers were sub­jected to sim­i­lar de­mands.

“The whole way we trained, how we went af­ter things, our iden­tity and how we wanted to play the game all changed,” Youngs said. “Ev­ery­one bought into it. English cul­ture tends to have peo­ple think­ing, ‘Hope­fully it will be good and I hope we are go­ing to per­form.’ The Aus­tralian cul­ture is, ‘We are go­ing to be great and this is how we are go­ing to do it. We will per­form.’ It is out there.”

Jones’s di­rect­ness man­i­fested it­self in prac­tice, too. Short, in­tense ses­sions were in­tro­duced to make sure the play­ers were al­ways train­ing un­der duress aer­o­bi­cally, rou­tines changed at short no­tice and soapy balls de­ployed to make han­dling more dif­fi­cult. In­ter­nally he con­stantly talks about mak­ing sure the play­ers are “des­per­ate”.

“I re­mem­ber one of the first ses­sions that we did and the lads kept pulling the ball out of the back,” Youngs said. “The whis­tle blew and Ed­die said, ‘Are we play­ing rugby league? Do we like rugby league over here?’ The lads were just look­ing at each other. He

Ready for ac­tion: Ed­die Jones su­per­vises train­ing

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