It was while on a mountain top in the Pyrenees watching the Tour de France that Eddie Jones realised his England rugby team needed to be more self-driven and free-spirited to scale their own peaks and topple the All Blacks.
Jones insisted that the back-to-back world champions had “significant weaknesses” and were “beatable”, although he said there would have to be a “three per cent” improvement across the board in his own world No 2 team if they were to make up the difference on New Zealand, whom he also accused of “controlling the rugby world”.
In Jones’s relentless quest for improvement, he has invited several coaches from the successful Olympic Team GB to address his management group, starting with Danny Kerry from the triumphant women’s hockey set-up. Even though Jones is unbeaten as England head coach, with a Grand Slam and a first 3-0 clean sweep against the Wallabies, Jones said neither the coaching nor the playing in Australia had been up to scratch. “We didn’t coach well enough on tour, so our staff have been working really hard investigating other sports,” he said.
Jones joined the Australian-backed Orica-BikeExchange team for a few days at the Tour de France. It proved an eye-opener.
“It taught me that coaches [in rugby] tend to put limitations on players, yet we don’t know how much players can do,” Jones said. “At the Tour, they started in 35 degrees in Spain and ended up in 10 degrees in rain in Andorra. It was horrendous. I got tired sitting in a car. They cycled for nine days then had a day off. They were in three-star hotels, nothing flash, they have a quick bite and it was the cyclists who got together, not the coaches, and worked out their recovery for the rest day, and it is they who are making the decisions.
“That’s being professional. We are looking for rugby players who have that desire. It’s got to come from within. Look at Billy Vunipola and his improvement over the last eight months. That has come from within. He is racing towards being world class.”
Jones also singled out the “world-class” goal-kicking of Owen Farrell but thinks England need another two or three at that rarefied level to achieve their goal of overtaking the All Blacks as the world’s No 1-ranked team. The Australian has grudging admiration for the Kiwis.
“New Zealand control the world,” he said. “They control every bit of rugby. Every law that is ever changed, New Zealand drive it. They control rugby in many countries. They are smart. They develop their coaches in New Zealand, they go overseas and come back more rounded. It is no coincidence they have become a better all-round team. Their line-out used to be a weakness. Now their set-piece is second to none. They are good, bloody good. But they are beatable. They have significant weaknesses.” Jones did not disclose them but said the difference was only three per cent.
Look at Billy Vunipola and his improvement over the last eight months. That has come from within. He is racing towards being world class.
“People say it’s 15-20 per cent but it’s three,” said Jones. “When I first started, I coached the Brumbies in Australia and we went from being second before I arrived to 10th and I thought I wasn’t very good. So I got all the performance stats and the difference between finishing 10th and in the top four was only three per cent. That has always stayed with me.”
Jones expects around 15 England players to make the Lions tour to New Zealand (when England will tour Argentina) and says he would be delighted if the Lions took on any of his assistant coaches, Steve Borthwick, Paul Gustard or Neal Hatley. Former Wallaby, Glen Ella, who helped in Australia, will not be extending his involvement.
Frank Dick, the former GB athletics coach, has been advising while Olympic judo and cycling staff will also visit the England camp.
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