Eddie Jones is an endlessly intriguing individual. Everything, from his comparatively tough upbringing, to frank public persona and his varied and successful coaching career guarantees media scrutiny, interest and intrigue. He is somebody people love to hate. An easy enemy, an easy target.
“I think Eddie says some things that overstep the mark sometimes,” said Brian O’ Driscoll, the Six Nations record try scorer, scoring some more easy points and providing some equally easy headlines. “He said something about Johnny Sexton and brought his mum and dad into it four years ago and that’s not benefiting or building the game – that’s scaremongering. We don’t want that – we’re trying to help the product, not hinder it. Sometimes he gets it wrong.”
I think that such a response is pure overreaction. One suspects Johnny Sexton, competitive beast that he is, highly driven, hard and successful fly half, does not care what Eddie Jones thinks. Rather, such comments probably only serve to drive him on.
“I think the stuff about brutality is harmless enough – particularly when you get your backside handed to you after the game so we can all have a good chuckle about it,” O’Driscoll went on, reveling in England’s loss in France, and in doing so implicitly recognising the value of people like Jones. He creates drama. He creates intrigue. He creates narratives. He loves to, he enjoys it, and we all love reading and writing out it, getting outraged at his most recent wry, provocative soundbite. O’ Driscoll is part of the media circus now, better placed than ever before to recognise Jones’ utility.
“There are many different sides to Eddie,” O’Driscoll went on. “I think he very much thinks about what he is saying and is quite calculated. I think there are certain things that are close to the edge.”
That might be the case. Jones treads the line, and we should call him out when he oversteps the mark, but I can’t quite see where the scaremongering comes in to things in this instance. Jones does what all coaches do, deflects attention from his players onto himself. Other coaches do the same: Gatland was a master, Steve Hansen too.
Look at some of Jones most controversial quotes, they are funny, they are tongue in cheek and they should be taken with a pinch of salt. They were mostly said with a playful smile on his face too, baiting the press, baiting the opposition into a reaction. That is the environment he wants.
“If you are not physical in rugby, you may as well be playing volleyball or curling.”
“Arrogance is only bad when you lose. If you are winning and you are arrogant it is self-belief.”
“I’ve coached for 20 years and I’ve never worked harder. I’m getting too old for this. I’m 55. I should be in Barbados watching cricket.”
“I just went through immigration and I got shunted through the area where everything got checked. That’s what I’m expecting, mate. Everything that’s done around the game is going to be coordinated. All coordinated to help Australia win. We’ve got to be good enough to control what we can control.”
Maybe I’m one eyed. Maybe I’m a sucker for a joke. Maybe I’m, despite myself, just quite fond of the man – but he adds drama and he adds intrigue, rugby should be pleased with that. O’Driscoll might talk of the ‘product,’ but no one likes boring.
Written by Joe Ronan.