Tearful Jones ‘humbled’ by Cup campaign
Coach shows softer side as Tonga clash looms England anticipating ‘ferocious’ tie in Sapporo ‘It’s a great honour to coach England … I just want to make sure I do my best’
RUGBY NEWS CORRESPONDENT
In an extraordinary show of raw emotion, Eddie Jones yesterday came close to tears when asked what it meant to him to coach England at the World Cup.
“It’s humbling, mate,” said Jones pensively, before welling up. “It’s a great honour to coach England… and… I just want to make sure I do my best.”
After a four-year roller-coaster ride with England, it seemed that the enormity of the occasion and the extent of the responsibility of carrying a nation’s hopes had finally caught up with the normally teak-tough Australian.
“I think World Cups are always emotional,” Jones added. “You get to do something that is pretty special. To coach a nation and to be responsible for a nation at a World Cup, where you know it’s not just rugby fans watching.
“Families watch World Cups, that’s the difference. It becomes an event for the country, rather than an event for rugby followers. It becomes an event for this country here. To be involved in it is a real honour.”
This is Jones’s fourth World Cup experience, having coached Australia to the 2003 final, worked as a consultant with South Africa when the Springboks were champions four years later, and again as head coach of Japan in 2015.
Yet the 59-year-old is still in thrall to the tournament and the unique pressures it brings. It is one of the key attributes that persuaded the Rugby Football Union to hire him four years ago after the disappointment of the 2015 campaign.
“That’s the amazing thing about World Cups,” said Jones. “You are playing seven rugby games so it’s no different than anything else, but it is in extraordinary circumstances.
“You go outside and there are spectators. There are Australian supporters, Fijian, English. It just creates a different atmosphere.
“Going into your first game, you never know what it is going to be like. Your second game, you don’t know what it is going to be like, because everyone has had the best preparation they’ve ever had.
“Everyone has prepared to win the World Cup. There are 20 teams all sitting at the top of that rollercoaster now. Everyone thinks they are prepared for it. Some will be prepared for it and some won’t be.
“Within the group, you are going to have players with varying degrees of adaptability and adjustment, and you have to try to help them get through it.”
With that mindset, it was no surprise that Jones has selected what is virtually his strongest side. England are here to make a statement of intent. “If you look historically, Tonga have punched above their weight at every World Cup and we are anticipating a ferocious battle on Sunday,” said Jones.
“We want to take them on. We are England and we want to take them on up front so no one will come out of there guessing.”
It is hard to pick holes in the selection. Worrying about injury implications could have sent out a negative vibe to the squad. Instead England will come out with all their big guns blazing.
Significantly, the George Ford, Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi back-line combination that was so destructive in the record warm-up victory over Ireland at Twickenham is selected.
The Kamikaze Kids of Sam Underhill and Tom Curry, who were so destructive as a pairing against Ireland, are also selected in a back row alongside Billy Vunipola. This has the makings of a ferociously competitive unit and one that will have too much power and pace for Tonga to handle.
Overall, Jones has selected 13 of the side who started against Ireland, with the only changes seeing Anthony Watson come in for Joe Cokanasiga and Courtney Lawes for George Kruis.
“This is the best squad we’ve got for England. I’m not concerned about any lack of experience,” Jones added.
“They’ve been absolutely superb in preparing for this tournament. They’ve worked hard, physically I haven’t seen the side any better than they are at the moment and off the field they’ve worked really hard to be a tight team.
“And that’s going to be tested in the World Cup because it is like a roller-coaster. We are at the top of the ride now, we are looking down – everyone’s nervous, everyone’s excited. You get down the first slope, you are not sure if you are going to throw up or hang on.”
And his message to England supporters? “Hang on to your seat. They’re going to join us on the roller-coaster.”
England have never been more ready for the ride to begin.
Emotional: Eddie Jones (inset) welled up as George Ford and Owen Farrell (top) prepared for England’s World Cup opener against Tonga