TOKYO, Oct 31 (Reuters) - When asked just what it is that Eddie Jones brings to the table the words most often heard from England’s players and his coaching assistants are “trust” and “honesty”.
The players, full of respect for his impressive CV, trust him in terms of selection, preparation and tactics, and Jones in turn trusts them to deliver on the pitch.
Those he perhaps did not think he could trust, including some undoubted Premiership talents, will be watching the World Cup final against South Africa on TV in the UK. Those he has faith in will be walking out at Yokohama Stadium on Saturday not only to play the biggest game of their lives, but fully believing they will win it.
When Jones took over the England job from Stuart Lancaster amid the wreckage of the 2015 tournament, that seemed an unlikely scenario. His stated and often repeated aim of wanting to make England the best team in the world, was invariably followed by “but we’re not there yet”.
Last week, officially, he finally achieved it as their extraordinary victory over New Zealand promoted England to the top of the world rankings for the first time in 15 years.
Jones, however, considers that a total irrelevance and is focussed on only one goal - winning the World Cup.
He got close with Australia in 2003, foiled by Jonny Wilkinson’s extra-time drop-goal, had a taste of glory as an assistant with a victorious South Africa in 2007, and pulled off probably the greatest World Cup coaching coup of all when his Japan team stunned the Springboks in 2015.
Now he is on the brink of the culmination of his life’s work, the thing that drives his furious work ethic. Some of those around him can’t take the heat and bale out or are discarded along they way, others have embraced the challenge and hung on for the ride of their lives.
Analysing Jones’s impact on England, former captain and World Cup winner Lawrence Dallaglio told Reuters: “I think there’s a really strong trust that has clearly developed over the last couple of years. The coach can pick a team and a game plan and the players are comfortable with it, as against Australia. Then he can change that winning team – everyone else was questioning the selection but the players weren’t – they just went out and delivered the plan.
“I think when he took over and for the first couple of years the relationship was very coach-led but now the trust is there and he can allow it to be more player-driven.”
Jones has been building towards Saturday since he arrived - every single decision backed by every ounce of his experience geared towards preparing his players for the ultimate rugby challenge.
Elliot Daly, consistently supported by Jones when many in the media were questioning his selection at fullback, said the Australian had been amazing. “You always get honesty with Eddie, you know exactly where you stand,” he said. “He’s coached against so many teams that come Monday morning, he knows exactly how we are going to beat the team the next weekend - and we all buy into that.”
In his first meeting with Ben Youngs Jones famously threw a bag of sweets at him, telling him he was too fat. On Saturday the scrumhalf will win his 95th England cap having become one of Jones’ most trusted lieutenants - and several kilos lighter.
“He prepares us meticulously but also keeps the messages simple so by the time we go out there everyone is absolutely ready and just does their job,” Youngs said.
Last week, when Billy Vunipola was trying to explain why, despite England’s dire record against the All Blacks, he seemed so confident of victory, he said: “Eddie knows how to do it - he has the formula. Trust in Eddie.” (Editing by Toby Davis)