Eddie Jones has drafted in a number of consultants from outside the England bubble to keep players and coaches on their toes and for Melbourne Storm defence guru Jason Ryles the main lesson he learned from his fortnight with the national team was the importance of simplicity.
Ryles, who is the brains behind the best defence in the NRL at the Storm, went to Portugal on England’s training camp at the start of November and then spent the week with the team as they prepared for South Africa, tasked by Jones with bringing a harder edge to their defence.
He followed in the footsteps of Jonny Wilkinson, George Smith, Glen Ella, Will Greenwood and his rugby league associate Andrew Johns in spending time with England as Jones continually looks for fresh ideas as he seeks to achieve his goal of turning them into the world’s dominant rugby force by 2019.
Ryles’ time with England was arranged through the national side’s new head of sports science, Dean Benton, who was at the Storm last year but was recruited by Jones. Benton’s appointment and the decision to bring in Ryles for that short period point towards Jones’ desire to see his side continually adapt and evolve through external, objective perspectives on how they can improve.
Jason Ryles spent two weeks with England at the start of November. Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
He took a great deal away from his time with England and enjoyed seeing how Jones works, but was struck by the clarity with which messages were delivered to the players.
“Eddie made things as simple as possible and that’s a secret behind why they’re so successful,” Ryles told ESPN. “I saw a group of players who wanted to play for their coach and wanted to do something right and bought into what he was doing.
“It was outstanding. They’re good quality blokes and you can see why they’ve had the success they’ve had over the past six to eight months.
“Their work ethic was outstanding and I was impressed with all the coaches, especially Eddie Jones.
“I’d never spoken to him before, only heard of him. He’s very insistent on the basics.
“It’s similar to here [Melbourne Storm] so it’s reassuring that a coach of his quality thinks along the same lines as us. We’re lucky to have the best rugby league coach of the modern era here in Craig Bellamy — to have him as my mentor is great — and then to see Eddie’s processes and how he reinforces the basics of the game was a great experience and great to be part of.”
It has been a reciprocal relationship. Steve Borthwick, England’s forwards coach, spent a day with the Storm back in June, in a watching brief, and Ryles then headed back the other way and kept a close eye on how Paul Gustard, England’s defence guru, works with his players.
Jason Ryles alongside England defence coach Paul Gustard (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
“I have a really high opinion of him,” Ryles said of Gustard. “He’s quality coach, he keeps things simple but he gets his message across a little differently to other coaches.
“He speaks very well, very polished and very effective. He’s had a lot of success with Saracens, thinks outside the box and I enjoyed picking his brains.”
Away from developing his own coaching nous, Ryles focused on England’s tackling ahead of what was to be a bruising encounter with the Boks. Having played against England centre Ben Te’o when he was back in rugby league at the Rabbitohs, Ryles used him to help translate his league ethos across to union, focusing on the various nuances in the contact area.
They arrowed in on the hit and stick approach and two-man tackles with the players then picking Ryles’ brains on a one-to-one basis.
“The main guys I worked with were Owen Farrell, George Ford — just with their first contact — and Billy Vunipola, where we did a bit with his ball carrying and tackling,” Ryles said. “I worked a bit with them after training and the other guys were so receptive.
“Billy is outstanding — he’d look great in a rugby league jumper but unfortunately that’ll never happen.
“He’s such a great player but an even better bloke. He really stood out for me as he always wants to improve, he spends so long trying to do that and it was so impressive to see.”
After seeing England defeat the Springboks, Ryles returned to Melbourne inspired and with a new understanding of why simplicity is sometimes beautiful and brutal when it comes to defence.
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