A common query from those Wallabies supporters with short memories and mesmerised by how Eddie Jones has transformed England rugby is: “Why did the Australian Rugby Union let him go?”
A reasonable inquiry, considering that the Wallabies have lost their way while Jones is 13 out of 13 with England — which includes four from four against Australia — with a Six Nations tournament defence about to start.
An Australian out-coaching, out-thinking, out-manoeuvring, out-sledging, basically out-Australianing an Australian team is infuriating, especially as he was once in charge of the national cause.
So why did the ARU let him go? And will they get him back?
Eddie Jones wants England to play a leading role in transforming the RBS 6 Nations into the best competition in the world by showing ambition throughout their title defence.
The major factor for his emotional exit in December 2005 after four years as Wallabies head coach was that the glaringly bad numbers could not be camouflaged.
Suffering a run of eight losses in nine Tests in 2005 — three times to South Africa and twice to New Zealand before being beaten by France, England and Wales — gave the ARU enough excuses to look elsewhere.
But Jones also provided an important clue to why the ARU moved him on following that end-of-season northern hemisphere tour when in a recent interview he said: “The big thing I learnt from the Wallabies was I’d never work for people I didn’t trust anymore.”
No names, no pack drill, but what Jones said was 100 percent right. In his final year with the Wallabies, Jones was undermined by some members of his team support staff as well as influential figures in the ARU head office.
He didn’t stand a chance of continuing into a fifth season, when supposed team confidantes were reporting directly back to ARU board members over what the coach was supposedly doing wrong and why his team — flat, despondent and playing substandard football — was not responding.
Eddie Jones was sacked by the ARU at the end of 2005. Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty Images
ARU officials, concerned they could not control Jones, even privately gloated over the fact they were getting ‘inside information’ about the team’s inner workings.
It was so apparent that there was a serious divide within the Wallabies team structure that members of the touring Australian press contingent told Jones the day before the Welsh Test — the final game of the 2005 tour — that no matter the result in Cardiff he would lose his job when the side returned home. Wales won 24-22.
Five days later, the ARU sacked him.
Jones is big on trust. He abhors back-stabbers, especially those among the official rugby blazer-brigade, who are either Harry Handshakers or jersey tuggers.
So, since learning from the mistakes of the Wallabies era he has ensured he is surrounded by those who are loyal, committed, can provide a winning edge and won’t run off telling mischievous stories.
That’s why he brought in his old ally and close mate from primary school days — Glen Ella — to be part of the England coaching team during their successful tour of Australia last year.
It was a perceptive, cheeky move because Jones knew Ella’s involvement would distract the Wallabies, in particular their coach, Michael Cheika.
Eddie Jones [L], Glen Ella. David Rogers/Getty Images
Apart from Ella, who had spent several years as a Wallabies assistant coach, having intimate knowledge of the workings of Australian rugby, he was someone that Jones could rely on to provide him with an honest assessment on how he and the rest of the England side were handling the tour, and how they could best utilise their time.
There’s no smoke and mirrors with Ella, who again upset the Wallabies during their end-of-season northern hemisphere tour, with some well-directed media barbs that once more put Cheika in a tizz.
That’s why Jones kept Steve Borthwick on as his England forwards coach after they had worked so well together at Japan, masterminding the greatest World Cup victory of all when the Brave Blossoms humiliated South Africa at the 2015 tournament.
It’s also why several days ago Jones announced that South African vision coach Dr Sherylle Calder would be part of the England team staff for the upcoming Six Nations tournament and beyond.
Jones, when Jake White’s assistant during South Africa’s successful 2007 World Cup campaign, had seen what Calder, a sports scientist and performance coach, had done to improve Bryan Habana’s game, in particular the Springboks winger’s hand-eye coordination and peripheral awareness. Jones credits Habana’s try-scoring prowess at that World Cup to the work of Calder.
Steve Borthwick. CameraSport via Getty Images
He had since used her when coaching Suntory in Japan, and again came rewards. So being part of Jones’ England entourage was the obvious next step. Again, winning edge.
From his Wallabies days, Jones also discovered the failings of being dictatorial. He was the master of belittling players — both privately and in front of others. He wanted to control everything. He had his fair share of coaching tantrums and was often difficult to work with.
Now he is more conciliatory. He concedes that suffering a stroke in 2013 forced him to soften his approach and bring more of a balance to a life that had been so deeply focused on rugby. Almost myopic.
“I don’t have the obsession to control everything now,” Jones said recently.
That has made him a better coach, and able to get the best out of a country that has always had the rugby talent but often let itself down by being unable to select leaders who knew that utilising that talent required a dollop of tough love. It needed someone like Jones, who came with cattle-prodder attached. Mollycoddling is not in Jones’ vocabulary.
As for whether the ARU would get him back for a second term as Wallabies coach…he has at least conceded his time with England will end after the 2019 World Cup.
Maybe, just maybe the green and gold and unfinished business could lure him. After all, those who conspired to get rid of him a decade ago have long been removed from the Australian dressing rooms and corridors of power.
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