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’

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Total Rugby -

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

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