Jones prioritises preparing England for the unpredictable

10:00 PM GMT

Eddie Jones’ challenge to his team ahead of Saturday’s match against Wales in Cardiff comes in two parts. The first is a psychological one by getting the players prepared for the unpredictable and the second is to return with another win to their name; conquer the first and victory should follow.

“Once we go down the M4 and cross the Severn River, we don’t control anything,” Jones said on Thursday, but he has had the week on a piece of string.

Moments after their win over France last weekend, Jones turned any incoming criticism on himself. He pre-empted questions over England’s slow start by putting the blame down to his own poor preparation; a message also delivered to the players with him apologising to them this week — it is hard to imagine few other coaches in world rugby doing that.

Then there was the roof fandango — the biennial pre-match discussion over whether the open air sport will be played under the Welsh sunset or retractable roof. Jones said all week it was low down his pecking order, keeping the opposition waiting in full knowledge they wanted it closed. Just before the clock ticked to 16:50 on Thursday – 48 hours before kick-off on Saturday – the RFU confirmed Jones wanted it open.

It was all on his terms, an aspect of his coaching DNA and re-occurring theme during his hugely successful England tenure.

Before what proved to be their Grand Slam-clincher against France last year, Jones prepared his team for potential dirty tricks in the warm up, one of the key themes of the pre-match narrative. As it transpired, there were no cockerels thrown on to the pitch or shenanigans with the band. The pre-game passed with barely the slightest hurdle but in going on the front foot, Jones had propelled the unpredictable onto each player’s radar.

“The only thing we control is our own mental state and the way we play the game”

Eddie Jones on the mental challenge of facing Wales

The same goes for this week. He has talked of the fear factor, how England are “petrified” of playing Wales in Cardiff and how some players may have “shadows in the corner” after they were thrashed there in 2013. Yet nine of Saturday’s matchday 23 won there in 2015, some demons were banished that day. Here-in lies his 360-degrees approach to planning, one which is meticulous and born from his experiences.

The last time Jones took a team to Cardiff to face Wales was in 2005. He was Australia coach then it proved to be his final match in charge of the Wallabies as he was sacked soon after. It proved to be a seminal moment in his development as a coach and England are now benefiting from that — compare that to Stuart Lancaster whose 2013 trip to Cardiff was the first time he had coached a team in the cauldron of the then Millennium Stadium.

Back in 2015 there was the tunnel-gate stand-off where Chris Robshaw rightly refused to lead his England team out on to the field before their Welsh counterparts lined up in the tunnel. That would have been referenced this week but with the issue of shenanigans so prevalent in the build up to Saturday’s Test, it is unlikely that anything will play out.

Despite England’s youth in the back-row — they have just four Test starts between them in that section of the pack — they will feel like they have already played a handful of matches in Cardiff.

James Haskell addressed the team earlier in the week on his experiences while Dylan Hartley spoke to the senior players and asked them to speak to the likes of Jack Clifford and Maro Itoje about what it is like playing in Cardiff. No stone is left unturned.

Eddie Jones watches on as England go through their Thursday training sessionĀ (Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

“We’ve had some great discussions,” Jones said. “We’ve got a nice mix of players – we’ve got some players who’ve had a lot of experience, players who’ve had no experience. Some of our players have never played at Principality Stadium.

“Some have had the best and others have had the worst experience. We’ve encouraged the interaction between the players on what you have to do to cope.

“Wales to me are a bit like South Africa. They’re countries where rugby is the main sport and the support is absolutely fever pitch.

“You go to the hotel and unless you do things, players get rung incessantly through the night. Those things happen. You go to the ground and the traffic controller drives slower than the traffic’s going to make sure you’re late. You get to the ground and there’s something wrong with your dressing room – there’s lights off or the heater’s switched off.

“Those things happen regularly in those sorts of countries. So the challenge for a team to play away is to be better than that. They’re things you can’t control.

“Once we go down the M4 and cross the Severn River, I’ve said it right, we don’t control anything.”

For all the talk of England being petrified, the toughness of going to Wales and expecting dirty tricks to be lying in wait, it will be a little disappointing if Saturday’s Test passes without at least some dab of cheekiness. But whatever is lying in wait, Jones has ensured that his team have already gone through just about every single possible pre-match ramification. Now it comes down to the coaches and players to ensure they get the on-field part of the task on point.

“The only thing we control is our own mental state and the way we play the game,” Jones said. “That’s how good sides are and the way we want to be. This week’s been a great learning experience for the team in understanding that. Whatever we do on Saturday, we’ll be better for it.”

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