Eddie Jones back in SA and on a mission to create history at Loftus with the Wallabies
Australia’s rugby head coach has a love/hate relationship with South Africa, so it promises to be an entertaining week in the build-up to the Rugby Championship opener in Tshwane on 8 July.
Wallaby coach Eddie Jones wasted little time in having a dig at the Springboks with their 2023 Rugby Championship opener looming at Loftus.
With news that the Boks might choose a “second string” team to face the Wallabies, Jones threw a little jab at the Boks.
“What I’m hoping for is their best team,” Jones said in reference to the possible Bok strategy of sending an advance party to New Zealand for the round two clash against the All Blacks in Auckland.
“I want to play against the best. If we want to beat South Africa in Pretoria, we want to play against the best.”
Jones, who suffered a chastening 32-12 defeat in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final when he was England head coach, was sensationally named Wallaby coach earlier this year. Incumbent Dave Rennie was sacked with little warning.
It’s Jones’ second stint in the job, having taken Australia to the 2003 World Cup final on home soil, which the Wallabies lost to England. Ever since he was unveiled as Wallabies boss, the 8 July date has loomed large in both Australian and Springbok rugby calendars.
Jones has a love/hate relationship with South Africa, having been assistant coach to Jake White when the Boks won Rugby World Cup 2007 in France. Ironically, he replaced Rassie Erasmus in the Bok set-up that year. Everyone loved him then.
He also accepted the role as Stormers head coach in 2015. Jones was in Cape Town to start the job when he did an astonishing about-turn, literally hours after being presented to the Cape media as the Stormers’ new boss. And accepted an offer to coach England.
His English side easily beat the Springboks at Twickenham in November 2016. But when Rassie Erasmus became Bok coach in 2018, his first major task was a three-Test home series against England.
Siya Kolisi, making his debut as Bok captain under Erasmus’ guidance, led the Boks to a 2-1 series win.
Following the historic 2019 World Cup final in Yokohama, when England were dismantled by a brilliant Springboks, Jones’ time in the England hot seat was always under threat.
It didn’t help that England won only five of their 13 games in 2022, after a second successive Six Nations where they lost three of five games.
The English media turned on him despite a hugely successful record in his six years in charge at Twickenham.
It was the Springboks who delivered the final nail in Jones’ red roses coffin. The Boks thumped England 27-13 at Twickenham last year, forcing the Rugby Football Union into a hasty “review” after which Jones was unceremoniously jettisoned.
But he’s back. And bullish.
“It’s just a great opportunity – imagine being in the first team that’s beaten South Africa in Pretoria,” Jones said. “Imagine being a part of that team. So, there’s a great opportunity there.
“We’ve spoken about it since April. It’s an opportunity to create history here, and we want to be the first team that does it.
“The most important thing is to have the mindset to win. You’ve got to be thinking that and we’re 100% committed to winning. And then you’ve got to execute a game plan where you can win enough possession, push them to the other end of the field and keep them under pressure.”
Although Jones was enjoying the mind games before the match, he also issued a dose of realism, considering the Wallabies’ struggles over the past few years.
“We don’t need to get ahead of ourselves. There’s a sprint, we’ve got to get out of the gates quickly,” Jones said. “But sometimes the sprint doesn’t win the marathon.
“We’re not focused on South Africa, we’re focused on ourselves. This is a game about us, we want to put a new standard of Wallaby rugby forward and set the tone for our campaign.”
Although the narrative in Australia rugby, especially in recent years, has always been about “ball in hand” and providing “entertainment”, Jones is a realist.
He has picked a massive pack for the Pretoria assignment, with European-based locks Will Skelton and Rory Arnold recalled. Skelton is 2,03-metres tall and weighs 140kg. He was the hefty meat in the La Rochelle pack that won the European Champions Cup. Arnold is 2.07-metres and a lineout supremo.
Clever kicking game
Jones also believes that a strong and clever kicking game is a key element of the battle.
“If you look at any modern game, there is a lot of kicking. If you look at any old game, there was a lot of kicking,” Jones said.
“There’s this fascination that rugby is a game where all you do is pass and run. When I played the game, some of the best kickers of the ball were the best runners of the ball.”
Jones has picked a raft of utility players that can operate in several positions with uncapped Josh Kemeny set to play in the loose forwards and wing.
“We need to develop a team that is multi-dimensional because with HIA [Head Injury Assessment], yellow or red cards, you need to be able to adapt on the field,” Jones said.
“Nothing’s not possible, and we need to develop that adaptability in the team. It’s very important to have adaptability and that’s why we’ve named them as utility players.
“We haven’t picked this squad as a World Cup squad, but we’re creating the structure of the team that’ll take us to the World Cup.
“We need a back-rower that can play wing and I’m serious about this. Hoops [Michael Hooper] could probably do it in his younger age, he was faster than most wingers.” DM
Boks v Wallabies at Loftus:
1963: SA 14-3 Australia.
1997: SA 61-22 Australia.
2001: SA 20-15 Australia.
2005: SA 22-16 Australia.
2010: SA 44-31 Australia.
2012: SA 31-8 Australia.
2016: SA 18-10 Australia.