Eddie Jones exclusive: I still regret how I coached the World Cup final – my mistakes could have cost us the trophy

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There was only one fleeting private moment early in the week of the final in Japan when I allowed the thought to flit across my mind: ‘What will I do if we win the World Cup?’ The memory is vivid. I was alone in my room in the Tokyo Hilton but, after 10 seconds, I shut down the pointless speculation. I had a word with myself: ‘Mate, you’re getting way ahead of yourself. We’ve got a huge match ahead.’ I can honestly say that I did not think about winning the World Cup again all week.

Pretty much everyone outside of South Africa expected us to win. We knew this truth, but understanding the consequences is much harder to fathom. Sometimes I feel like people only really understand a situation once they’ve experienced it. It’s a bit like having a baby. Before the birth you are given so much advice from people who are already parents. But until the baby arrives you cannot really understand what is involved.

In the week of the final we spent a lot of time telling the players that the Springboks were going to come at them with ferocious intent. We reminded them that South African rugby players tend to dislike the English and so they would dredge up even more emotion. We spoke about the fact that the Boks were also trying to do something special for South Africa as a country but, until they had been through the experience of facing a fired-up Springbok team in a World Cup final, it was hard for the players to understand what was coming.




Despite all the best laid plans for the 2019 World Cup final, there were some things Jones could not fully prepare his players for

Despite all the best laid plans for the 2019 World Cup final, there were some things Jones could not fully prepare his players for


Credit: PA

I made a decision to keep the week fairly normal in terms of training. We stuck to the same routine which had served us so well against Argentina, Australia and New Zealand in the previous three games. The week went pretty well and then, travelling to the ground on the day of the final, we got caught in traffic. Of course we had rehearsed for this eventuality and gone through a mock drill in the past when you arrive late for a game. So we were prepared, but I’m sure one or two players were still unsettled by the fact it happened on World Cup final day.

I lacked boldness as a leader

A couple of minutes into the final something far more disconcerting happened: Kyle Sinckler and Maro Itoje collided as they went to tackle the Springbok wing Makazole Mapimpi. Kyle was knocked out. He was eventually able to stand up and walk slowly from the field but his World Cup final was over. We had lost one of our key men, our in-form tighthead prop, and we would soon buckle under the sustained might of the Springbok scrum.




Kyle Sinckler’s World Cup final was cut short when he was knocked unconscious in the opening minutes

We were under the pump in the first 20 minutes, and my lasting regret is that I didn’t make the two early substitutions we needed to change the momentum of the game. But to take off a couple of players after 20 minutes in a World Cup final was a huge call. I have done it before in the international arena – when I withdrew Luther Burrell after 20 minutes and changed the course of a Test match against Australia in Brisbane in 2016. But I chose not to do anything so radical against South Africa.

Perhaps I was guilty of making the wrong decision simply because it was the World Cup final rather than addressing the actual game slipping away in front of my very eyes. If I had been bolder as a leader we would have had a better chance of becoming world champions that night.

Part 2

My rules for England coaches – and why I don’t care if we hate each other

I have learnt over the years that it is never about liking your staff or getting on with them socially. Of course it’s a bonus if that happens but it cannot be forced. All that really matters in terms of work are your professional and performance relationships. Can you work together professionally to improve the performance of the organisation? Can you, in tandem, improve the people in the organisation? Those are the points that count in elite sport and business.

Empathy and interpersonal skills have an important role to play, and if anyone around me is struggling with personal problems, it is important they should feel able to approach me to discuss them. I try to help with advice and suggest ways in which they might cope. There were a couple of occasions in this most recent Six Nations when someone on my staff as well as in the playing group opened up about difficulties away from rugby. They felt it was affecting their performances and it was good that they could come to me to discuss the situation.

Offering human support, however, is very different to liking everyone you appoint. There are numerous coaches I really like as people. I enjoy meeting up with them and talking about rugby and life, over a meal or a drink, but I wouldn’t offer them a job. Conversely, most of the people I’ve really enjoyed working with professionally are not great friends of mine. We have had a fantastic working relationship, but the job is so consuming that I’m not on their list of people to see when they just want to relax.

People go on about great teams being great friends. Most of the time they’re not that close. Great teams have great performance relationships rather than great friendships. Look at Sir Alex Ferguson’s revered Manchester United teams. Apart from a small group of four or five, none of them seem to be close. They don’t talk to each other and they’ve got contrary views. But the job of a leader is to make sure there’s enough cohesion in the group so they have positive working relationships. If you are trying to bring in people you like, rather than the people you need, then you will not develop your organisation.




Jones worked with defence coach John Mitchell before the latter left this summer – one of a number of recent coaching set-up changes


Credit: PA Wire/Andrew Matthews

I always try to find people who know more than me in their specialist area. They might be very different to me, and we might have little in common socially, but they offer the balance to improve myself and the squad. That balance is always crucial when it comes to choosing the right people.

Players are human beings and so they need different coaches that they can turn to at different times. Some days they need more analytical, hard-nosed coaching. On other days they need a cuddle and a chat about the universe. We try to get the right match for them and, on the whole, we have done pretty well with England.

It always helps if you have a trusted number two, or an ally, with whom you can share personal concerns and doubts. That vulnerability is often fleeting and so it is not always appropriate to express it to the other staff. I also don’t think it helps the players much if they see you looking down or uncertain. But there are occasions when it can work.

After we lost to France in Paris in the opening game of the 2020 Six Nations, I said to the players: ‘Boys, that was my fault. I didn’t get you ready in the right way. I’ve let you down, and I apologise.’




Jones took the blame for England’s 2020 Six Nations defeat to France, telling the players he did not prepare them correctly

Jones took the blame for England’s 2020 Six Nations defeat to France, telling the players he did not prepare them correctly


Credit: PA

I meant it, and I think the players respected that. It encourages an atmosphere of brutal honesty which can be hard to engender otherwise.

As long as my staff share our end vision, and buy into it totally, I don’t care about anyone else. If they start to doubt this vision, then it’s time for them to move on. They will show by their actions whether they want to be involved. If they don’t, then we’ll find someone else to replace them. It’s not negotiable. Either you want to be a part of the vision or you don’t.

Part 3

I have learnt so much from working with Beauden Barrett

I love rugby and I love coaching. And so I am going to take any opportunity I get to practise coaching in my spare time. I love going back to Suntory in Japan and I love the 10-day spells I have to refresh myself by doing nothing else but practise my coaching with a group of players who are always eager to work and to learn.




Jones values the honest relationship he forged with Beauden Barrett while coaching at Suntory


Credit: AFP or Licensors/PAUL FAITH

I learn even more from them at these practice sessions – especially when the chance arises to work with Beauden Barrett.

A Bob Dwyer phrase still rings in my head today. He said: ‘The best coaches in the world are the best players.’ He meant that, if you want to become a better coach, learn from the best players. Every time I talk to a leading player, I learn more from them than they learn from me.

In England there has been much criticism of me coaching Suntory, and working with Beauden. But for me the best thing is that Beauden, one of the world’s great rugby players, is comfortable enough in himself, as I am in myself, to talk about the game so openly. We’re not trying to take anything away from each other. We’re trying to help each other and to just share our love of the game. Winning matters hugely, but I want the game of rugby to grow and to be truly great.

Some coaches and leaders prefer to run their lives in a more secretive way. But I have found that if you’re open and you’re sharing then, generally, you get more back than you give. I wouldn’t have it any other way because, to me, it’s stimulating and refreshing and rewarding.

I went to Argentina before the last World Cup to help their coaches set up a local club competition. I did it out of a genuine love for the game rather than because I was letting slip any A1 secrets – not that we really have any. We shared information, and when I got there I learnt some new ideas which have been of benefit to me and my team. I might have helped them think about the game in a different way, too, and how can that be anything but good for rugby?

When working with Beauden, I have learnt more about his humility and the way he keeps working at his game. He has twice been the World Rugby’s Player of the Year but, with Suntory, which is supposedly meant to be an easy gig for him, he comes out every morning for training with the vim and enthusiasm of an 18-year-old. One week, even when there was no game on the weekend and he had a crooked neck and had to wear a medical bib, Beauden was at it with so much purpose and intent. He loves practising and training and playing, and I savour that undying passion that surges through him.

I’ve spoken about Beauden to my players in England. Over here, considering the length of the season and the environment, some players tend to go through the motions in training. But you need to find a way to retain that boyish love and enthusiasm for the game.

Part 4

My pre-match rituals and inside England’s dressing room

On match day I am up early, around 5.30 a.m., and I have a long workout. I push myself a little bit harder than I normally would. I usually follow it with a long steam bath. So I’m basically wrung out by about 9 a.m. There is no space for any tension then.

I either go off for a coffee or return to the room and have a cup of tea. I then go over my notes for the game and check all my thoughts about the individual players and coaches. We’ll have a midmorning meeting and I’ll share my key notes with everyone.

I’m usually back in my room from about 12 and it’s a quiet time for me then. I will read whichever book I’m currently immersed in and I will jot down any points of inspiration which will help my thought patterns for the day. Before we meet up again to head for the stadium, I will have another steam bath to keep myself calm.




As part of his routine, Jones would normally have had two steam baths on a match day prior to meeting up with the team

I am usually pretty good because we have prepared hard and I feel we’re ready. I have also learnt how to keep control of my emotions. It’s vital to be composed in front of the players. I think a lot of rugby fans have got the wrong impression of the modern dressing room before a big Test.

There is a much more measured atmosphere in the England dressing room than people think. However, before the third Test against Australia in 2016 I had a balloon filled with water in the dressing room in Sydney.

About 80 minutes before kick-off, the players were ready to hear my pre-game speech. Instead of launching into a long talk, I threw the balloon against the wall. It made a huge splash as the water gushed out and the empty balloon sank slowly to the floor. 

‘There you go,’ I said. ‘That’s Australian passion.’

The Wallabies were desperate not to lose a home series 3–0. So they would come at us with a torrent of passion. We had to cope with the raging onslaught for a while and then, eventually, that passion would evaporate like the water drying on the wall.

Sometimes those intense and fiery dressing-room speeches are still needed if the players are a bit flat. But 90 per cent of the time everything is calm. We allow the players to prepare in their own way. Some like to listen to music on their headphones, while others prefer getting ready by following their own quieter, private rituals. The players hear around 35 or 40 pre-game speeches a year. So it’s just not going to work to spike their emotion every time. You need to find different ways to help them get ready.

I actually think the pre-game speech begins right after the previous match, when you start planting ideas in their head. Then you talk to them all week leading to the match. It’s continuous, and sometimes the emotional spike can come early in the week rather than right before a game.

Before most games I say very little that is startling. The preparation has all been done. It’s just a case of reminding them of the key points.

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