The following is a transcript from a recent meeting between Eddie Jones and Sir Clive Woodward – worth a read I think – even if you’re not an England supporter!
Former England rugby player and coach Sir Clive Woodward and current England coach Eddie Jones caught up this week following Jones’ first year in charge.
Woodward confessed the meeting was a slightly surreal experience. The pair sat in the changing room of England’s state-of-the-art training block at the Pennyhill Park hotel in Surrey – where Woodward worked for seven years.
But this is Eddie’s manor now, and he was ready to talk rugby with Woodward..
EDDIE: Happy New Year mate, sorry I’m a bit late.
CLIVE: No worries, where did you have to come from?
EDDIE: I came from home, but I just had to nip down to Virginia Water which is literally three miles down the track. But it took 40 minutes to get back. Traffic. It still takes some getting used to even on a ‘quiet’ Thursday afternoon! Does this mean you are going to fine me?
CLIVE: No fines in my teams Eddie, nobody was ever late! Let’s talk about your team. So much has happened. Were you nervous taking over England 12 months ago?
EDDIE: You are always a little bit nervous, but it was exciting – I watched England during the World Cup very closely. You could see they had talent, but there were a few things that needed changing. If you create the right environment people will change. Most people are products of their environment – 95 per cent of players you get want to improve, the other five per cent, if they don’t want to improve you don’t want them there anyway. On the plane flying over I scribbled some notes down but basically it was ‘guys, you have a choice to make: Do you want to be a great player? Do you want to be part of a great team? If not you can walk out of the room now’.
CLIVE: It’s impossible to give you anything other than 10 out of 10 for your first year in charge. How do you keep the momentum going?
EDDIE: The exciting thing is that we still haven’t played as well as we can. We have a lot of players still developing, a lot of areas we haven’t really explored yet, we haven’t really explored our attacking game yet. In the next 12 months we would like to get more consistency in our set piece and defence, develop more creative threat in our attack. It’s a great development period for us. To be a really good attacking team you first need an extraordinarily good set piece. We don’t have that yet. We have games when the line-out works, games where the scrum works. We haven’t yet put those two together.
CLIVE: The thing I still notice with some club rugby matches is how slow it can be sometimes. It drives me mad! Scrum-halves putting their foot on the ball, looking around endlessly, then putting their hand down and leaving it there. If you are really going to threaten the world’s best teams, which you are, you have to play quicker.
EDDIE: Hundred per cent. With England, we can combine fitness with power. Our backs aren’t physically imposing but our forward pack can be, so we have the advantage of having power and pace and that is where we can have an advantage over New Zealand.
CLIVE: Skill, pace and power – but are you able to get that across to the clubs, can you do that?
EDDIE: No we can’t and we are not really going to try. All we can do is encourage the players to understand how important it is to keep on understanding how they must keep playing with tempo. It happens at some clubs naturally but we can’t control that process.
Dylan Hartley’s Indiscipline
CLIVE: I was interested in your quotes around the time of Dylan Hartley’s sending-off about letting down himself, his club, his country. Did you really mean that or was it for the media? My initial reaction was that it wasn’t a red card. I was quite surprised you said that to be honest.
EDDIE: I honestly think if he made that tackle 12 months ago it would have been a penalty, but my point was that you have got to be able to adjust to the new rules. Make a loose tackle now, you are going to get a yellow card and maybe red. Make a bad call under the high ball and you are going to get a six to eight-week ban. You must adapt to the new game and very quickly.
CLIVE: And Dylan stays as your captain?
EDDIE: Listen, he’s done a fantastic job for me. He is just a player who can bring people together. Some players, as you well know, can take a team forward and he’s one of those players. He’s not the greatest player in the world but he has got the rare ability to get players really playing for him.
CLIVE: Can he get all the way through to the next World Cup in 2019 as captain? Do you see him as the World Cup-winning captain? I look at Dylan and ask: ‘Is he a John Eales, a Martin Johnson, a Francois Pienaar, a John Smit, a Richie McCaw?’ Iconic players in any era. Does he fit into that?
EDDIE: We don’t have to worry about that now because it will take care of itself. I see the 2019 World Cup as three projects. The first two years, the next two years and then the final three months. In the first two years how the team forms is completely different to the next two years and I know that Dylan is going to do a great job for us in that first two-year phase. Then we will assess what happens for the next two years.
Dangers Of New Tackling Laws
CLIVE: These new tackle rules (clampdown on high tackling around the head). How important is it for England to understand them and use them to best advantage?
EDDIE: We have got to try and anticipate how they will be reffed in two years. With the tackle zones coming down, it’s going to open up the game a little more. I think they will speed the game up even more.
CLIVE: Aren’t there some dangers, though? I was listening to Austin Healey and he was saying if he was playing now he would just run as low as he can holding the ball right next to his head. And there was a lot of sense in what Austin was saying.
EDDIE: (laughing) I don’t think it’s going to happen quite like that but it’s definitely going to make defences readjust. We will need to be better technically in defence, we need to be tight, pick the zone on the body and hit accurately. The laws could help the attacking team but there is also the potential for defensive sides to get better. Defences at the moment are good at making tackles but what they are not good at is slowing the ball down legally, which gives you more line speed in defence.
CLIVE: So that means we will see more bodies in the tackle area with the new laws?
EDDIE: That’s my guess.
Pain Of The Lions
CLIVE: Eddie, what about the Lions? I’m a Lions fan, I was proud to play for the Lions, I coached the Lions but when I was sitting in your seat I saw them as a massive disruption and made no bones about it. We were building in 2001 and then lost a load of players to that tour and it set us back a bit. Before the tour Iain Balshaw was our No 1 go-to back, he was my superstar in the backs but after the tour he was never quite the same. The tour also affected Ben Cohen, although he was back to his best by the World Cup. The Lions can go two ways. How are you seeing it?
EDDIE: The only part of 2017 I can really control is the Six Nations, all our focus is on that. Post Six Nations we are going to lose 10 to 15 of our players to the Lions and maybe those players won’t play for us in November (Autumn Internationals) because they will have played probably twice the number of post-season games they will normally have played. We don’t have to rest them but speaking to a number of players who have been on Lions tours, they found those November matches to be the hardest – so I think we have to be smart about it. So, given that, I look on 2017 as a massive opportunity to increase the depth of the squad. We have the opportunity to produce great third and fourth-choice options. Our two Tests against a full-strength Pumas in Argentina will be very testing.
CLIVE: That makes sense. We were in a similar position in 2001 – two years out from a World Cup – but when they came back we continued with them and finally gave the guys some time off in the summer of 2002 when we went to Argentina with a weakened team. Your way sounds better.
EDDIE: If we can sit down in the last week of November and say we have got 45 guys who can play Test rugby at the level that will be required at the 2019 World Cup, then this year will have been an enormous year for us. And if we lose a few battles on the way, it will help us win the war.
CLIVE: Eddie, the Celts put a huge emphasis on the Lions, their big past-players are Lions legends, that’s almost how they made their names. I read an article recently quoting Paul O’Connell, who I have huge respect for, saying that the Lions is bigger than playing for Ireland. I disagree. I played for the Lions and I never saw it as bigger than playing for England. I believe this is the sole reason the Celtic nations have such poor records against the Southern Hemisphere. I don’t think England players think like that. Do you detect a pecking order from the guys?
EDDIE: We had a camp back in August when we interviewed all the players about their ambitions for 2017 and out of the 45 players attending, only one player spoke about the Lions. Most of the players want to play for England first but they realise that a consequence of playing well for England is that they might get to tour for the Lions.
Toppling The All Blacks
CLIVE: On the subject of the Lions in New Zealand, a big positive of England players and coaches being involved will be a close-up view of this team which, let’s face it, you will have to beat at some stage if you are going to win the World Cup. How do you beat New Zealand?
EDDIE: The great thing about the Kiwis is their simplicity. For the past 30 years they’ve played a very fast, passing game and they want ball generally in unstructured situations, they try and create unstructured situations. The only way you beat them is to minimise that, don’t give them any loose kicks or loose ball. You don’t necessarily have to play long phases against them and if you kick, make sure you have got a good kick-chase so they have to kick the ball back to you. You minimise the situations they enjoy most and maximise those they enjoy least.
CLIVE: Is it possible for a British and Irish team to ‘out All Black’ the All Blacks in terms of their fast, unstructured game?
EDDIE: When I was with Japan we played a strong Maori All Blacks in two games so I decided to conduct a little experiment. The first game I said ‘right guys, we are going to take them on, play phase rugby, run everything and outphase them’. They beat us 60-15. The next week I said ‘we are just going to try and beat them. We are going to play how they don’t want to play, we are going to kick early in the phase, get a lot of chase going, put a lot of pressure on’. We ended up losing 19-18.
CLIVE: How much do you change your plan with England? Some teams used to have Plan A, B, C. I used to have three plans too – Plan A, Plan A and Plan A! There was a way I wanted England to play. I don’t care about the opponent. I think we spent no more than 20 per cent of time worrying about the opposition.
EDDIE: That’s what we are trying to do now. Every game we play now, we are trying to put together a game that will beat New Zealand.
Let The Players Take Charge
CLIVE: I was reading somewhere about how early you get up every morning to clock on and it’s all to do with what you call ‘capturing knowledge’. Just explain that a bit.
EDDIE: The only advantage you really have on the opposition is learning faster, so if you want a learning environment the head coach has got to set the example. To achieve that you have to keep improving yourself, keep gaining knowledge wherever you can and you’ve got to have a coaching staff the same. I like Pep Guardiola’s great quote about needing to be an ‘ideas thief’. You need to keep taking things from here, taking things from there.
CLIVE: With the ideas, how much is coming from you and the coaches as opposed to thoughts and ideas from your team?
EDDIE: The balance probably went from 100-0 in favour of the coaches 12 months ago, now it’s probably 50-50 and we want it to be 20-80 by the World Cup.
CLIVE: Brilliant! Once you’ve got the team in place that’s how it has to be.
EDDIE: The players must own the game, mate. That’s how it has to be. Some things never change.
Interesting perspectives and made a lot of sense I thought.