Instead of going on the offensive ahead of this weekend’s match with the Wallabies, Eddie Jones was effusive in his praise for Australia on Monday saying they are “probably the form team in the world at the moment”.
This time last year Jones was locked in a war of words with his Wallabies counterpart Michael Cheika over the legalities of the opposition side’s scrum. This came after a 3-0 series win in Australia, a tour where Jones led the agenda as the team took a ‘Bodyline’ approach Down Under.
But this time it is a little different. “I think they’re doing well. We’re just worried about ourselves. We’ve got a lot to do,” Jones said when asked about his praise for Australia.
Instead Jones’ press conference was led on apologies both for the way he prepared his team and for being caught swearing by the cameras during Saturday’s match. The England coach said his 93-year-old mother phoned him up to tick him off regarding the latter, and he then went on to hold his hands up for the team’s below-par performance against Argentina, a message he also delivered after England fell to Ireland in this year’s Six Nations.
“We don’t need to change the way we played,” Jones said. “We just need to perform better and my job is to make the team perform.”
He continued: “We all try to do our best, we try to work as hard as we can, think about all the contingencies, try to get the players in the eight mental state and sometimes it doesn’t work. And it didn’t work on Saturday, and I take full responsibility for it.”
Despite Jones’ mea culpa, there was a quiet appreciation of the black and white facts that England won. Drawing on his memories of the 2007 World Cup where he was a consultant for the triumphant Springboks, he referred to their ugly victories over Tonga and Fiji. They are given few column inches now, but his point was there: winning is paramount and aesthetics are secondary, a view echoed by scrum-half Danny Care.
“We’re not there to entertain,” Care said. “We’re there to get the job done and win matches and with that, hopefully we’ll play some good rugby and get the fans excited”. He will be on red alert Saturday over the threat Australia’s Will Genia poses at scrum-half but, like the outstanding Kurtley Beale, he is yet to face Jones’ England across their four Tests since he took charge.
“They’re both class players,” Jones said. “Genia at his best was the world’s best half-back. Beale is one of those exceptional players that just finds a way to get to the ball and then he does something, usually very productive with it.”
Jones has also been impressed with the work Cheika has done with Australia, saying he has effectively reinvented them for a second time. So it seems there will be no verbal grenades thrown in Australia’s direction, just praise for what they have achieved.
England will remain introspective this week, but there will be that ever-present theme of keeping the players uncomfortable. They will move away from their usual Pennyhill Park training base early in the week and have moved their main training day to Wednesday. Jones will hope these changes reignite his England team ahead of Saturday, as he seeks to find a true barometer of how good they are.
“The game [against the Wallabies] is certainly going to another level. Are we ready for it? That’s what we’ll find out on Saturday. That is why we want Australia to bring their absolute best — to find out where we are at.”