For Eddie Jones, it was always England, always the red rose recurring at the most pressured, definitive moments of his international coaching career.
In the 2003 final, a defeat at the hands of Clive Woodward’s England, coaching his native Australia, at their home World Cup – how that must have stung. Four years later, in 2007, revenge. Jones was a coaching consultant for the great South African team that narrowly defeated England in final in France. And then, inexplicably, a career drift. For years Jones looked as if the success had dried up, off the pace and perhaps spent as a coaching force.
Relatively fruitless spells at Saracens and Suntory Sungoliath, both noticeably a step down in prestige from the dizzy heights of 2007, followed, and Jones’ reputation took a hit. Suddenly the picture looked different. Jones was the man who lost in 2003, and little more than an accessory in 2007. Whilst not meaning to disrespect Japan, Jones taking the job as their head coach in 2012 reflected this loss of personal prestige.
And then, and then, England in 2015. More specifically, Brighton, and that incredible win against the Springboks. Jones’ career has a lovely symmetry, the same sides crop up again and again, and without that miraculous victory against his old employers, he would most likely never have got the opportunity to beat them on the biggest stage of all, this Saturday, for England.
Jones’ time at England has had a strange rhythm to it. He was hailed the messiah after winning 18 consecutive games, a 3-0 series win in Australia and back to back Six Nations, only to be on the brink of not even making it to the World Cup as England coach twelve months later.
In that period, in which England lost six games back to back, Jones was on the ropes. He was booed, he was much maligned in the press, and there was talk of players revolting against the punishing work load. What a long time ago that seems – a strange and distant world in which Ireland are actually half decent at rugby.
The rugby world in autumn 2019 is much changed. This tournament, Jones, along with Steve Borthwick and John Mitchell, has proved inspired. England stand on the precipice of greatness, having dominated the mighty All Blacks, with now only the hulking presence of South Africa in their way. Eddie Jones too, has a career defining game to play in the World Cup final.
Win, having beaten all three southern hemisphere giants on route to victory, and Jones should rightly be heralded one of the all time great coaches of the professional era. Lose, and his career, and his reputation, may not quite have the shine it undoubtedly deserves.
Written by Joe Ronan.