Way of the Samurai: Eddie Jones say "someone has to die" in quarter-final showdown

Rugby World Cup
by Iain Payten

Centuries before the Rugby World Cup arrived in the Oita prefecture, on Japan’s southern-most island Kyushu, samurai warriors lived in the region.

“See those hills to the back of us,” England coach Eddie Jones said on Thursday.

“That’s where the samurais lived and every time a samurai fought there was one who lived and one who died.

"It’s the same on Saturday. Someone has to live and someone has got to die.”

Eddie Jones cracks a grin. Photo: Getty ImagesThe stakes won’t be quite so high when Australia and England meet in a dome on Saturday, also in some hills situated just above Oita City.  

All will walk off the battle field and there’ll likely be honour in defeat, even. But on some level, there will be a death of sorts for one of the teams.

Australia could silence a legion of doubters by progressing, or exit after a bumpy four-year cycle of frequent lows and all-too-rare highs.

Or England, the richest union on the planet resurrected by Jones from the ashes of 2015, who come into underdone to a quarter-final where defeat will only be viewed at home as slightly better ashes.

Jones, for one, is excited by the challenge.

"You saw that great image of (Semi) Radradra after the Fiji game. Fiji v Wales,” Jones said.

“He said he emptied his tank and he said he had to for his country. That’s what every player in the eight teams on the weekend is going to do for their country. So it makes it a bit different, a little bit more meaning. It’s fantastic."

Jones gets out of the warm while England warm up. Photo: Getty ImagesThe former Wallabies and Japan coach is no stranger to World Cups; the 2019 tournament is his fourth. So, by trial and error, Jones now knows many of the required paths for success.

As Wallabies coach in 2003, he lost to England in that famous final, and in 2007, he was Jake White’s in-the-background svengali as South Africa won the tournament in France. Many ex-Springboks say he was a massive coaching voice in the camp.

In 2015, Jones was in charge of a barely considered Japanese team who, via a meticulous three-year plan, engineered the most famous upset in World Cup history over the Springboks.

Jones says World Cups are not won by “brilliant” teams, they’re won by the teams who are prepared to work the hardest.

"Tournaments are about - and particularly a World Cup is about - a team sticking together,”  Jones said.

"The rugby in a World Cup is pretty simple. You don’t see brilliant rugby in World Cups. You see teams that are able to do things over and over again well - deal with the intensity, application, work hard for each other - that wins World Cups.

"I can’t recall a brilliant team winning the World Cup. Tough, hard teams that stick together. Maybe the only one is New Zealand in 2015. They were miles ahead of everyone. Apart from that, none.”

Owen Farrell is a 'warrior', says Jones. Photo: Getty ImagesJones, of course, sees the necessary fight and unity in his England team now, and his chief “warrior” is captain Owen Farrell.

"He leads from the front. He competes, he’s tough,” Jones said. 

"And that’s what we’ve tried to produce in this team. We’ve got a tough team who competes hard. That’s how we want to play. That’s the England style of playing."

Jones hasn’t necessarily been living up to that combative standard this week, however. 

In past England-Australia clashes, particularly in the 2016 series, Jones was almost wildly pugnacious and took issue with everyone and everything that he perceived to disrespectful.

He fired so many bullets at opposite number Michael Cheika - with none coming in return - that All Blacks coach Steve Hansen chimed in and suggested Jones was bullying his younger Randwick teammate.

This week, however, there’ve been precious few barbs thrown between the two. Those hoping for fireworks have been disappointed and the presence of Ricky Stuart in England’s camp had to make do for drama and intrigue.

Indeed, you could almost sense a new mellow in Jones.

Eddie Jones and Michael Cheika talk during the 2016 series. Photo: Getty ImagesThe former Randwick hooker said he was proud of Cheika’s work as coach of Australia, and that their late mentor Jeff Sayle, who passed away several weeks ago, would be having a tinny with St Peter and enjoying the fact they’re duking it out in a quarter-final.

Jones has been very affected by Sayle’s death, and wanted to fly back to Australia for the funeral. It was on the day before the France-England game, though; a game that was called off, in the end.

Jones has choked up when talking about Sayle several times in the last whole, and did so again when asked if his passing had made him re-assess his old club bonds and friendships.

“Yeah, maybe,” Jones said.

It’s wrong to presume Jones and Cheika are really close mates - the former is seven years older - but they’re friends in the way all old footy club mates are, and on top of that, they empathise with each other in the unique challenges faced by members of very small Test coach club. And they appreciate the other’s success.

"I just think we’ve always been mates, we just don’t see each other very often,” Jones said. 

"I live in Bagshot, so it’s pretty hard to get from Bagshot to Coogee for a coffee. So we don’t see each other but I’m proud of him. I reckon he’s done a great job for Australian rugby. He has his heart on his sleeve, he gives it everything he’s got, you can’t ask for more than that.”

Cheika said about Jones: “He's been there for a bit now he's done a good job but always hurts me when there's an Aussie over there, you know what I mean? Trevor Bayliss and Eddie, Wayne Bennett, you know, because you want them at home. But it is what it is."

The brutal reality, however, is both will be out to beat the other on Saturday, with the very real possibility defeat will also come with a job change for the loser.

Michael Cheika and the Wallabies at training. Photo: Getty ImagesCheika is off contract, and while Jones has one for another two years, there is every chance a quarter-final exit would see a coaching exit too.

There are the ever-present rumours that Jones may eventually find his way to back to Australian rugby one day, and though you suspect it’s a scratch he wants to itch after being sacked in 2005, Jones could also have his pick of jobs around the globe.

Jones admires Cheika for wearing his heart on his sleeve but won’t comment when asked if the Wallabies are predictable, and thus more beatable, due to Cheika wearing his tactics on his sleeve too.

There’s no poker bluff with Cheika. The Aussie coach puts his cards face up on the table, and rightly or wrongly, says Aussie fans don’t want a team who kicks, they want a team who runs.

Most, if pushed, would just settle for a team that wins but Jones clammed up on Thursday when asked about Cheika’s open-book coaching style.

"Look, I don’t really think about it so I don’t have an opinion to make on that,” Jones said.

"I think each team works out how they want to play and you work that out with the resources you have on societal issues, what does that organisation need to be successful, and you make decisions. 

Eddie Jones coaching some Japanese school kids. Photo: Getty Images"He’s made the decision for his team and he thinks that’s right, and they’re a well coached team, just look at his record. 

"As I said, I’m very proud of what he’s done, he’s got a team to a World Cup final, he’s got them in the quarter-finals, before that Australian rugby was in disarray.

“So he’s done a great job for them.”

EDDIE JONES ON ...

On Australia’s unique defence influencing England selections

We have had three games to see how we can be our strongest and Australia brings a particular set of issues that we have obviously looked at, in terms of their attack and in terms of the way they defend. They defend a lot differently from most teams in the way they defend. They defend a lot differently from most teams in the world now.

On Owen Farrell and captaincy:

He’s coping with it really well. I feel like sometimes, maybe earlier in the tournament he spent too much time in the captaincy area and not enough on his own individual prep but I’ve seen a real change in that this week.

Why was Steve Smith so successful in the Ashes? One of the reasons was he didn’t have to worry about the bowling team, he didn’t have to worry about setting fields. All he had to worry about was batting. It’s much simpler when you’re just a player - when you’re captain you’ve got more responsibilities and as you go on as a captain you learn how to get the balance right. 

On the importance of finishers, having dropped George Ford

You guys are obsessed about who starts. If I had my way I would just pick a squad of 23. But the laws of the game make you pick a starting fifteen. It’s a 23-man game now, it’s not a 15-man game. Look at how many props play longer than 50 minutes now. They don’t. So you are looking for 80 minutes out of two positions. You are selecting  one guy to start who is right for that game and one guy to finish who is right for that game.

Of course they (all want to start). But only because you guys make a big deal of it. If you guys started saying “great finishers”, then blokes would want to finish, wouldn’t they? Of course they would.

Look in baseball, some of the closers are the most highest paid pitchers in the world because they have such an important job to do.

On watching Japan’s success as a former coach

“Well I’m just excited for them that they keep going forward. Again it shows if you believe in a certain way of rugby and you’re prepared to work had you can make things happen. That’s what we’ve seen with Japan. They’ve continued to work hard.

We know they’ve worked hard. They compete at a high level and they compete hard and they’ve obviously got 120 million supporters at the moment. That gives you a bit of impetus.”