Complacency is England’s greatest danger ahead of Saturday’s Test at Twickenham against Australia, according to Eddie Jones, but the England coach has the perfect safeguard against slipping into personal contentment: his wife Hiroko.
“Every time I go home she says, ‘You’d better win this week’, so it’s simple,” Jones said, when asked how he keeps his own feet on the ground as England look to secure their 14th win on the bounce on Saturday.
Hiroko’s role in cancelling out complacency is yet to extent to the England team so it has been Jones keeping a close eye on any signs of players letting up as they chase the unbeaten year. He looks for slips like players skipping optional ice bath or steam sessions and that all-seeing eye has also extended to the coaching staff as they all prepare for a match labelled England’s cup final.
England head coach Eddie Jones used Thursday’s team announcement press conference to continue his war of words with Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika.
England have changed two for Australia with Nathan Hughes and Marland Yarde starting at Twickenham on Saturday.
England are without seven first-team players for Saturday’s Test but Jones has 2019 vision and sees this as a chance to build a team with a strength in depth capable of winning the next World Cup.
He is someone who looks forward, rather than back, but is wary of Australia. He is anticipating a “hungry” Wallabies side on Saturday, one still wounded from their 3-0 series drubbing in the summer.
“You’re always sitting next to complacency or looking ahead too much,” Jones said. “That’s a constant battle. We’re at our most vulnerable now. At training this week we’ve been a bit iffy at stages. That’s not such a bad thing; it helps to keep complacency from the door.
“The only way you get over the top of that is to have the correct mindset and that’s an individual responsibility to get right. For me the rugby is always important — but to be the best in the world you have to be like [Muhammad] Ali. Go for those road runs every morning at 5am when no one notices.
“From a team perspective we’re in a reasonable state. Individually, over the next 48 hours, the players will find their right state and we need them to be right on the ball.”
It has been a week of verbal grenades with Jones starting the war of words on Saturday with comments over Australia’s scrum. Michael Cheika has since fired back but this verbal tennis rally between the two camps stretches back to the June tour, with Cheika saying this week he feels Jones has tarnished his legacy Down Under following comments deemed “vitriolic” during their summer series.
But speaking on Thursday, Jones refused to be drawn on Cheika’s views with the response “ask Cheik” to any questions around comments from the Australian camp. At one point Jones defiantly fired back with a rhetoric response to another question over Cheika’s comments.
“Do you think that I’m the sort of person who worries about people’s opinion of me?” he said.
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The one thing that did seem to irk the England coach was Cheika revealing earlier this week that Jones “stormed out” of a pre-match meeting with a referee back in June. Jones said he had “different codes of behaviour” adding that “if you have a private meeting it stays private”.
There is perhaps more of a bounce in Jones’ step this week; that distinguishing grin was hard to shift. He’d never admit an element of personal pride over a potential win versus Australia but did conced he was “distraught” when sacked by the Wallabies in 2004.
There are subplots aplenty ahead of Saturday.
Off-field verbal jousting, coaching a team 13 on the bounce and Australia in his adopted backyard — Jones is in his element. And whatever happens on the Twickenham turf, he will seek out Cheika post-match for a beer.
“This week’s been fun,” Jones said. “We’ve had a great week here preparing.
“The media’s had fun — good headlines. Cheika’s had fun and everyone’s enjoying it. It’s great for rugby. There’s nothing better than an Australia-England rivalry is there? I think it’s fantastic. It’s been a great week.”
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