Eddie Jones: ‘The English are passive and polite, but push them and their fighting spirit comes out’

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Born in Tasmania to a Japanese-American mother and an Australian father, Eddie Jones grew up in New South Wales and became a professional rugby player. After a career that included a season playing for Leicester Tigers, he became a schoolteacher, before embarking on the itinerant coaching career, studded with silverware, that has taken him to three World Cup finals: the 2003 final in which his Australia side lost to Jonny Wilkinson’s drop-goal; the 2007 final won by the South African team for which he was technical adviser; and the 2019 final, in which England, who have been led by Jones since 2015, lost to South Africa.

Jones, who is known for his frankness and wit as well as his coaching ability, is married to Hiroko, and they have a daughter, Chelsea.

Best thing about living in England?

Being a professional coach – it’s the opportunity to steal good ideas from other coaches. We’re so lucky to have the Premier League here. We’ve got cricket, cycling, hockey, all these sorts of sports, and everyone’s always keen to have a chat. I talk to Gareth Southgate (the England football team manager) about certain issues: how to handle a player, how to handle a team environment and, over the past 12 months, how to handle the Covid regulations and how our players are coping. I ask him quite generic questions about preparation, because he might have a slightly different way of doing things and it might benefit my team. 

I sent Gareth a few texts during the Euros, but we didn’t have a conversation. When a coach is in a big tournament like that, everyone knows you’ve got to leave them alone, because they’ve got enough on their plate. 

Best British trait?

There’s this great bulldog spirit. English people remind me a lot of the Japanese in that, externally, they’re quite passive, polite and well-mannered, but when you push them, when they’re under the most extreme pressure, the fighting spirit comes out, that spirit of fighting to the end. I say of my team that sometimes, when things are going well, we tend not to have that, and it takes some sort of crisis or difficulty to bring that out. I think we’ve seen this trait in the pandemic: difficult times, and all of a sudden we’ve got a solution. 

Best thing about being a teacher?

The best thing about teaching is that the biggest ratbags turn out to be your biggest fans. Back in Australia, so many of those kids that were difficult to teach would come up to me 10 years later, and even though we’d been fighting all the time they’d say: “We really appreciate what you did for us at school.” It gives you so much pleasure to have had a little bit of an effect on the world.

Best moment of your career?

It’s about to come. It’s always about to come. This time it’s 2023 (the next rugby union World Cup). You’ve got to look forward all the time – that’s so important. I’ve been lucky enough to coach for 25 years and I don’t keep anything from those 25 years, because you’ve always got to be looking ahead to the future.

Best piece of advice you’ve been given?

When I was growing up, I’d always be rushing from cricket to rugby to studying, and my father had this Japanese saying: “Yukkuri.” It means “go slowly”, and that’s something that’s really stuck with me. You’ve always got time to do things, particularly when you think you’re in a hurry.

Best habit?

When I became a deputy principal, the principal herself was a music teacher called Rita Finn who played the cello. She was the most immaculate note-taker I’ve ever seen, and every day she wrote her to-do list with a nice black Pentel pen and a yellow highlighter. She diligently and meticulously ticked off that list every day, and that’s how you build trust with people. Because that’s what trust is: doing what you say you’re going to do. Ever since, I’ve tried to keep the same habit.

Funniest prank that players have played on you?

There was a time in I think 2017 when we had the Six Nations launch. On the morning of the event, I slipped over in the bathroom and cut my eye. Then it was my birthday two days later, and the boys gave me one of those plastic bath mats.

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