Emotional Eddie Jones shows softer side as he leads England into Tonga Battle in World Cup opener
- Eddie Jones is usually brash and bullish in his pre-game press conferences
- But he showed an emotional side to his character ahead of the Tonga game
- The England coach welled up as he spoke about the honour of coaching
- Jones is not immune from the sentiment and emotion of these huge occasions
Eddie Jones revealed a different side of his character after naming his team for England’s World Cup opener here on Sunday.
The head coach known for being brash and bullish briefly appeared emotional — perhaps even vulnerable.
That is the impact of what he described as a rollercoaster ride. Rugby’s grand event has begun and the participants are gripped by tension, anticipation and trepidation, as they get ready to plunge into the tournament maelstrom.
Not even Eddie Jones is immune from the excitement and emotion of a World Cup
No amount of preparation can guarantee a positive outcome or even that players and coaches will cope with the magnitude of what they are involved in.
Jones was asked what it means to him to take charge of England at this showpiece in the Far East and he faltered slightly as he answered. His eyes welled up.
‘It’s humbling,’ he said. ‘It’s a great honour to coach England… and… I just want to make sure I do my best.’
These were sentiments he had expressed countless times before, but not with such evident feeling. For all of his top-level experience, Jones is not immune to the emotional toll of his high-stakes role, and in a way he doesn’t want to be immune. He seems to relish it.
‘World Cups are always emotional,’ he said. ‘You get to do something that is pretty special —to coach a nation and to be responsible for a nation when you know it’s not just rugby fans watching.
Billy Vunipola and the England side are preparing to take on Tonga in the opener
‘It becomes an event for the country. To be involved in that is a real honour. I’m massively nervous and I’m massively excited. If I didn’t have that feeling, I’d be worried. Because you don’t know. The one thing we don’t control is the results of games. We control the preparation and every coach out here all thinks they’ve done a great job preparing their team, but we don’t know, do we?
‘The reality is that if you didn’t enjoy it, you wouldn’t do it. I love it. If I didn’t, I’d have a job where I could catch the bus at 8 o’clock every morning, wear the same suit, take a briefcase and have my packed lunch.
‘I could do that and I’d probably do it pretty well, but I love this — you work really hard to prepare a team and then you don’t know what is going to happen.’
Jones named a formidably powerful team on Friday. Put aside the absence of Mako Vunipola, who is in the final stage of his recovery from a hamstring injury, and it is arguably England’s best line-up.
They are ready to unleash their full arsenal in the Pool C opener against Tonga. The attack will be dictated by the 10-12 alliance of George Ford and captain Owen Farrell. It is a side awash with physical clout and nous, pace and attacking potency.
However, Jones will be mindful of how his players cope mentally with the tasks ahead — how they handle so much expectation and pressure. He compared their predicament to a trip to a theme park.
Jones has named a full strength team for Sunday’s game and clearly wants a fast start
‘The World Cup is like a rollercoaster,’ he said. ‘We are at the top of the ride now, looking down. Everyone’s nervous, everyone’s excited. You get down the first slope and you are not sure if you are going to throw up or hang on.
‘You’ve got to adapt to that because there’s going to be some turns, there’s going to be some accidents, there’s going to be some fun. We want to enjoy all those things that come along and the team is equipped to handle it.’
There has been plenty of talk about how much this match will mean to Tonga, as their players seek to make an impact on the global stage, knowing that a good performance could earn them a life-changing contract.
Well, England’s players have contracts but they have a lot to play for too. This is what they have been building towards for four years since emerging from the wreckage of the 2015 tournament at home. They are among the title contenders.
Hope is both a blessing and a burden. Jones will watch for any sign of his players changing routines. That will provide an indication that they are struggling with the burden.
All summer, the coaches have talked about how they want this England team to be able to adapt to new and challenging situations. A World Cup in itself falls into that category. So the time has come to show they truly can adapt.
They will have to be a physical, brave team too. Tonga should be out-classed, but they will bring a fervent pride and willingness to hurl the kitchen sink at their opponents. England are more than ready and willing to hurl it back.
England will anticipate blood and thunder from an uncompromising Tongan side
But as defence coach John Mitchell has repeatedly emphasized, what is crucial is that they meet fire with fire, while retaining cool heads. They cannot afford to become embroiled in a macho, big-hitting contest which leads to disciplinary trouble. High tackles are a refereeing priority, so the ferocity must stay legal.
All the trump cards surely lie in English hands. They can expect set-piece supremacy. They have greater experience and pedigree. They have better kickers and a better defence, and they can make ground through the middle or round the outside. Billy Vunipola, Manu Tuilagi, Kyle Sinckler and Maro Itoje will be key components in the direct, softening-up process. Then Jonny May, Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly should be able to run amok.
Tonga will be fiery, but limited. Maybe if they had more matches of this calibre, they could become better than that, with such an abundance of talent in such a small population.
But they are stuck in the margins, so this is a huge step up — one they may struggle to cope with, if the recent 92-7 loss at the hands of New Zealand was anything to go by.
So Jones and his men are on their rollercoaster, ready to take the plunge, and it is a time of tension and uncertainty. But there is no danger of them falling off at this stage of the ride.
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