Funny and clever, Jones uses ev­ery trick in the book to gain an edge

Coach chal­lenges All Blacks’ aura by claim­ing all the pres­sure will be on them, while push­ing his own play­ers to up­set the odds on Satur­day

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby World Cup -

Eddie Jones missed his calling as a box­ing pro­moter. There we were me­an­der­ing through a rou­tine semi-fi­nal build-up when bam! – the energy level soared and the head­lines started yelp­ing. In the fight trade, a shout would have made ev­ery­one sit up: “It’s show­time.”

One dif­fer­ence: in box­ing, the ramp­ing up of hos­til­ity and con­spir­acy shifts tick­ets and pay-per-view sales. Hype helps ev­ery­one get paid. But there was no fi­nan­cial mo­tive for what Jones did at Eng­land’s team ho­tel next to Dis­ney­land Tokyo. His name ap­peared un­ex­pect­edly on Eng­land’s news con­fer­ence list and what fol­lowed was as en­ter­tain­ing as any­thing the lo­cal Dis­ney fran­chise could dream up.

A few facts need lay­ing out. New Zealand, Eng­land’s semi-fi­nal op­po­nents, have won 18 straight World Cup fix­tures. They have not lost at the tour­na­ment since 2007. They have a 100 per cent record against Eng­land in World Cups and have won 15 of the past 16 Tests be­tween the two. Be­fore Ja­pan 2019 started, the All Blacks were post­ing a 77.2 per cent win ra­tio in in­ter­na­tional rugby.

How­ever much Eng­land im­proved against Aus­tralia on Satur­day – and they re­ally were ex­cel­lent in places – they con­front a moun­tain of dis­cour­ag­ing stats, none of which makes Satur­day’s game in Yoko­hama a doomed mis­sion.

The prob­lem with play­ing the All Blacks is one of per­cep­tion. Fear­ful thoughts stalk the brain. “We could win,” the con­scious mind says. But the All Blacks “prob­a­bly will win”, the sub­con­scious in­ter­jects.

It was this sense of pre­des­tiny Jones was prob­a­bly at­tack­ing with his two-pronged dis­rup­tion strat­egy. Tac­tic No1 was to al­lege spy­ing from an apart­ment block on Eng­land train­ing. This led him into an ad­mis­sion that he too used to spy on op­po­nents un­til he stopped in 2001. He soon wrenched the con­ver­sa­tion back to the here and now, and his sus­pi­cion that es­pi­onage was be­ing con­ducted by a per­son or per­sons un­known. He was too clever to make a di­rect al­le­ga­tion against any team, but the ef­fect was to sug­gest Eng­land were up against dark forces and there­fore might be wor­thy of the sup­port of those who root for un­der­dogs.

Jones is right to say New Zealand are the sec­ond favourite team of Japanese rugby fans. Even as the Brave Blos­soms were knock­ing out Scot­land, the mer­chan­dise stalls out­side Yoko­hama Sta­dium were a mix of Ja­pan and All Blacks scarves and jer­seys. “The Japanese love all that. The Sa­mu­rais are mys­ti­cal char­ac­ters in Japanese his­tory and it’s the same for the All Blacks,” Jones said. “Japanese love the haka and all that goes around that, that’s their sec­ond team.”

No­body could se­ri­ously think en­list­ing lo­cal em­pa­thy would help Eng­land’s play­ers in the mael­strom of a World Cup semi-fi­nal. But nor does Jones want New Zealand to step out on Satur­day as the dar­ling of all neu­trals. He knows – as ev­ery­one does – that New Zealand rugby is a men­ac­ing cor­po­rate ma­chine as well as be­ing the home of ex­pres­sive play. So part of his mo­ti­va­tion is to strip it down to its essence of com­mer­cial and po­lit­i­cal power. He wants to de­mys­tify it. It may make no dif­fer­ence to the re­sult, but Jones knows he could not spend the whole week al­low­ing the All Black

“aura” to go un­chal­lenged.

He may make no dent in that mys­tique, but he can re­in­force a mes­sage to his play­ers, just as Sir Clive Wood­ward used to in­sist on his team calling them New Zealand, not the All Blacks. He wants Eng­land to be­lieve in them­selves as po­ten­tial World Cup win­ners and not be drawn into All Black pre­des­tiny.

Any mark he can leave on the New Zealand ed­i­fice is worth leav­ing, he seems to be say­ing. Hence his frontal assault around “pres­sure”, which was al­most com­i­cal and cer­tainly en­ter­tain­ing. “I don’t think they are vul­ner­a­ble, but pres­sure is a real thing,” Jones said. “The busiest bloke in Tokyo this week will be Gilbert Enoka, the men­tal skills coach [Enoka’s ti­tle is man­ager – lead­er­ship]. They have to deal with all this pres­sure of win­ning the World Cup three times and it’s po­ten­tially the last game for their great­est coach and their great­est cap­tain, and they will be think­ing about those things. Those thoughts go through your head. It is al­ways harder to de­fend a World Cup and they will be think­ing about that and there­fore there’s pres­sure.” New Zealand have heard this a thou­sand times. Their 455 wins in 588 Tests point to a ta­lent for tran­scend­ing provo­ca­tion and mis­chief. Jones knows this; he is in the fi­nal stages of his grand de­sign as Eng­land coach, so the memo was re­ally to his own play­ers. He was telling them to be­lieve in the re­al­ity of All Black mor­tal­ity and back them­selves to up­set the odds.

Ever since the draw was made he knew this match was com­ing: “We’ve pre­pared for this game for 2½ years. I can re­mem­ber be­ing in Ky­oto 2½ years ago and quickly you could do the math­e­mat­ics – even an Aus­tralian could do the math­e­mat­ics – that we were going to play New Zealand in a semi-fi­nal. Pro­gres­sively we’ve built a game that we think we can take New Zealand with.” There is the nub: this is a coach talk­ing to his own squad, not the All Blacks, who will be amused but not un­set­tled.

Up for it: Eddie Jones knows what lies ahead for Eng­land against the All Blacks

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