Rugby World Cup final pressure can 'make you do strange things': Eddie Jones

29 November 2019 - 05:58 By LIAM DEL CARME
England coach Eddie Jones looks dejected after the Rugby World Cup final. He says he made two selection mistakes.
England coach Eddie Jones looks dejected after the Rugby World Cup final. He says he made two selection mistakes.
Image: REUTERS/Issei Kato

England coach Eddie Jones conceded the accolades and acclaim his team received in the build-up to the Rugby World Cup final against the Springboks proved a distraction his team could have done without.

In his newly released autobiography, Eddie Jones — My Life and Rugby, the wily coach wrote about the challenges of winning the most coveted match in all of rugby.

England ultimately lost the final 32-12 to the Springboks in Yokohama earlier this month.

The pressure, he wrote, is like no other match — and intimated that it even got to Jake White in the build-up to the 2007 final.

“A World Cup final week is different to anything else in rugby. I was about to begin my third, following 2003 and 2007, and I remembered how the pressure turned Jake White inside out when he was in charge of South Africa in Paris,” wrote Jones, who was White’s trusty adviser in the build-up and during the Boks’ successful assault on the trophy in Paris.

“Sitting in the number two seat is easy. My job as Jake’s adviser was to try and take some of the heat away from him. Now it is my turn to deal with the pressure. I know it’s critically important to our preparation that I stay calm.”

Earlier this month Jones found himself in the number one seat as the boss of England as they prepared for the RWC final. He admits finals “can make you do strange things”.

“You can sometimes find yourself jumping at shadows or second-guessing decisions. I have been guilty in the past of working the players too hard in the build-up to big matches. But less is usually more when you’re about to play a fourth major southern hemisphere team in five weeks. We had beaten Argentina, Australia and New Zealand in successive games. South Africa are the most brutal opposition, and so it was felt right that we gave the players more time to recover from what had been an exhausting few weeks,” Jones wrote.

England went into this year’s final after delivering a performance of fist-thumping authority in the semifinal against a shell-shocked New Zealand. Most pundits installed them favourites for the final, while others better schooled in the history of the RWC cautioned that teams rarely deliver back-to-back performances of that kind of quality in rugby’s showpiece event.

On that score, Jones admits to being riled by Wales coach Warren Gatland’s comments following the Dragons’ semifinal defeat to the Springboks. Gatland suggested that some teams play their best game at a RWC in the semifinal and that they don’t always turn up for the final.

Earlier in the year after Wales beat England, Gatland said England struggle to win big games. Jones admitted in hindsight that there was some truth in Gatland’s comments.

“There is also the psychological challenge after the kind of big win we achieved against the All Blacks,” Jones asserts in his book.

“While we played well, I thought the analysis was a bit over the top. Everyone was slapping us on the back, saying how fantastic we were, how it was the best ever performance by an England team and the best ever win at a World Cup. The praise was everywhere. The challenge is to bring the players back to reality. Bring them down to lift them up again.”   

Despite the hype around the final being cranked up with a surge in flights from the UK to Japan and reports of some tickets being sold for £12,000 (R227,500), Jones believes his team kept their eye on the ball.

“Our preparation was solid. Clearly, it still wasn’t good enough because, ultimately, you judge the preparation by the game’s result. But in terms of the way we trained, behaved, and looked forward to the game, it felt good.”

Although his team was relaxed, there was no complacency.

“They’ve got a history of being the most physically intimidating team in the world and they have a massively aggressive forward pack,” he wrote about the Bok pack.

“There are not many Springbok teams that don’t come through the front door. So we’ve got to be ready at the front door and have enough cover at the back door, too. Rassie (Erasmus) is a cunning coach and had done a great job with the Springboks. We’ve prepared for the unexpected as they are going to be difficult to beat.”

Eddie Jones — My Life and Rugby is published by Pan Macmillan at the recommended price of R330.