ENGLAND’S PRIDE & JOY
Jones says rugby fever is driving his team on: ‘We can inspire the nation and change how the country feels about itself ’
The battle cry rang out loud and clear from England’s base as Eddie Jones urged his team to play with “no fear” and “inspire a whole country” in tomorrow’s World Cup final with South Africa.
Far from nerves beginning to fray as kick-off looms, there was an unmistakable air of confidence in the England camp, reflected in the fact that for only the second time in his four years in charge Jones has named the same starting XV, with George Ford retained at fly-half.
There is certainty of selection and clarity of thought as Jones embraces the moment for which he has been planning since 2015.
“We will play with no fear,” said Jones, emphasising the buzz phrase his players will carry with them out on to the field at the Yokohama Stadium, in what the England head coach believes will be a seminal moment in their lives.
“The Rugby World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world at its time on Saturday. How fantastic is that for our players to have an opportunity to be themselves, to play with spirit, to play with pride and with an English style of play? They can inspire the whole community. There is a bit of rugby fever going on back home and mums are telling kids that they could be the next Kyle Sinckler or Ellis Genge.
“It changes how the country feels about itself for a period of time and that is the greatest joy. When I look back at Japan and what we did at the 2015 World
Cup, and saw the growth of rugby here, it’s spectacular. People in Japan love rugby now and they didn’t before. You have got this opportunity to change people’s lives through the ability to play rugby and that’s a gift to you, isn’t it.”
Jones is under no illusions as to the size of the task, based on his own experiences as part of the Springbok management who helped win the World Cup in 2007. There have been several feisty, bruising encounters between the teams down the years, which Jones attributes to the Boer War.
“I know how much South Africa enjoy the rivalry with England, I know the depth of their feelings and some of it is historical,” said Jones who was so well regarded by the players in 2007 that, even though he was not part of the official management group, wing Bryan Habana posted his own ceremonial Springbok blazer to Jones, who had moved to Saracens, as a gesture of appreciation.
“It’s always the social context of the game which makes it interesting. That’s the great thing about international rugby. We know what to expect from South Africa. They are going to come hard at us. We have to meet that physicality and impose our game on them.”
England have absolute clarity about their game, no matter the opposition. Even though they were able to play fast and wide against New Zealand, when the situation presented itself they were also direct. They know, too, that any game against the Springboks invariably descends into an arm-wrestle. Jones, though, has deliberately beefed up the team over the years, exhorting them to return to their roots. Far from there being any question marks over England’s ability to deal with the Springboks’ physicality, Jones believes his
team have their measure It was an encounter with former Holland and Manchester United manager, Louis van Gaal, that enlightened Jones.
“I always had an idea of how I wanted to play, but talking with Louis it became clear that it always depends on the players you have,” Jones said. “I wanted to develop a power style of rugby as England have big, tough players. It suits us to play a power style of rugby and we will be tested on Saturday as we are playing against the other most powerful team in the world.
“We don’t talk enough about an English style, an English identity. The players are proud of the style they play and they know it’s their style. It’s not someone else’s style. They have evolved the style of play, they have evolved the tactics they play with and they own their game.”
Jones paid tribute to the efforts of his now 32-man squad, with Saracens scrum-half Ben Spencer slotting straight in on the bench for the injured Willi Heinz, only five days after arriving in Japan.
There is a steeliness about the squad Jones admires. The players have even initiated a custom on a Friday after Owen Farrell’s captain’s talk whereby England shirts numbered 24-31 are handed to the non-playing members of the squad.
“They’re the heroes of the team,” said Jones, who has no plans for anyone from outside to come in and present the match-day squad with shirts. “We’re about ourselves. We don’t need extra motivation. The group is like the biggest family in the world and working out the dynamics of everyone, how to get everyone better, is always there.
“When a World Cup goes well for you, you don’t want it to end. The break-up will be sad. My job was always to make myself redundant. I am almost redundant now. The team is running the team, which is how it should be.
“Like everything, there is always a final chapter and the final chapter is Saturday.”
Fantastic opportunity: Eddie Jones says players can feed off rugby fever back home