There was one ODDS-ON CERTAINTY going into this Test series: England coach Eddie Jones was going to get asked the question.
The “revenge” question. The one that goes along the lines of, ‘So, Eddie, does it mean more to you to beat Australia than to beat anyone else?’
At which point Eddie will give the answer. The one that goes along the lines of, ‘No mate. Why should it? I’m a professional Rugby coach. Every win is equally important to me.’
It would be disrespectful to say that Eddie is lying. Let’s just say that he is fudging the truth somewhat. To paraphrase George Orwell’s Animal Farm, when it comes to Eddie Jones, all wins are equal, but some wins are more equal than others.
Specifically wins over Australia.
When Eddie departed Australian Rugby in 2007 it was anything but a fond farewell. His career was in tatters.
After being sacked as Wallaby coach and walking away from the Queensland Reds after one torturous season that culminated in an embarrassing 92-3 loss to the Bulls in Pretoria, there were serious doubts he would ever coach at the highest level again.
The lifeline that sees him now established as the most successful England coach of all time in terms of total wins and winning percentage came from South Africa and Japan, but much as he might try to brush off reporters’ questions, he has never forgotten the humiliation he suffered at the hands of Australian Rugby officialdom.
As one journalist noted on the eve of England’s 2016 tour of Australia, Eddie Jones has a long memory.
From the time he took over as coach of the ACT Brumbies in 1998, Eddie developed a fractious relationship with the people running the game in Australia.
At the Brumbies, it boiled over when then-Rugby Australia boss John O’Neill was critical of what he termed a “soft disciplinary response” by Eddie and team management to an incident involving players and a taxi driver in Cape Town, South Africa.
Their frosty relationship continued when Eddie was appointed coach of the Wallabies in 2001.
Eddie was equally at loggerheads with Rugby Australia’s high-performance manager, Brett Robinson.
In his biography, O’Neill told of how, after a heated argument, Eddie stormed out of Robinson’s office and slammed the door so hard it broke the lock.
Clashes with former Wallaby coach-turned-media heavyweight Alan Jones, O’Neill’s successor Gary Flowers and his own replacement as Wallaby coach John Connolly, furthered Eddie’s belief that he had been the victim of a behind-the-scenes vendetta to force him out of Australian Rugby and, ultimately, out of Australia itself.
While Eddie’s most vocal critics would speak of his “paranoia” and say that it was purely his poor record in the two years following the 2003 World Cup that led to his demise, O’Neill later revealed that he had in fact offered the Wallaby job to Kiwi Robbie Deans almost immediately after the 2003 RWC final.
To which Eddie could rightly say, ‘See? Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean everyone’s not out to get you.’
As he told me the day after his appointment as England coach following Japan’s successful 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign, “I didn’t divorce Australia. Australia divorced me.”
All of which makes tonight’s first Test in Perth so important to the man whose intensity and drive as a first-grade hooker at Randwick earned him the nickname ‘Beaver’.
Every win is equally important? Don’t you believe it.
Eddie has won just about everything there is to win in international Rugby. He has a 2007 World Cup winner’s medal from his time with the Springboks and runner-up medals from 2003 with the Wallabies and 2019 with England.
His Japan side pulled off the greatest upset in Rugby history when it beat South Africa in the 2015 World Cup. He has coached the Wallabies to win the Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup and taken England to a Grand Slam and three Six Nations titles, achieving a record-equaling 18 consecutive wins along the way.
His teams have beaten every major Test side in the game, including twice eliminating the All Blacks from the Rugby World Cup, and in 2017 he was voted International Rugby Board coach of the year.
Yet for all that, much as he might downplay it, there is one record that holds a special place in his psyche.
Eddie has never lost a Test to Australia.
Starting in June 2016, when he brought his England squad to Australia for a three-Test series just six months after taking on the role of head coach, his teams have faced the Wallabies eight times and won the lot - the most consecutive wins by either side in the 113 years they have been competing.
Beginning tonight and culminating in Sydney on July 16, that is a perfect win-loss ratio that Eddie is no doubt quietly desperate to improve to 11-nil before heading back to the UK.
In fact, if truth be known, he is probably disappointed that the record isn’t already sitting at 10-nil.
When John O’Neill was critical of his decision to join South Africa’s 2007 World Cup campaign, Eddie fired back, saying that if the Springboks and Wallabies met in the tournament, he would do everything in his power to help ensure a South African win.
That showdown never eventuated, with Australia eliminated in the quarter-finals by England, and Eddie was again denied a crack at Michael Cheika’s Wallabies in the 2015 World Cup.
When I congratulated him the morning after Japan’s miraculous pool win over the Springboks, I broached the possibility that if results went their way, they could face the Wallabies in an elimination quarter-final.
He chuckled. ‘That would be fun wouldn’t it, mate?’
It wasn’t to be, with Scotland just pipping Japan for the last spot in the knockout round.
If he was disappointed then, he more than made up for it less than a year later when he arrived back in Australia at the head of a talented, committed and aggressive England squad.
Even before he’d left the airport to head for the team hotel, Eddie was making it clear that this entire tour was going to be the ‘Eddie Jones Show’.
Complaining that he had been picked out for a luggage search by customs officials as part of a clandestine national plot to undermine the England campaign, he never missed an opportunity to criticise the biased media coverage or throw caustic barbs at his former Randwick team-mate Cheika.
He even told reporters he had been ‘given the finger’ by a well-dressed woman in the stands prior to the kick-off of the first Test.
“That was when I thought: Maybe I’m not in love with Australia any more’,’ he said.
It is a successful blueprint that he has employed every time he has come up against the Wallabies in the six years since, and one that no doubt he will be attempting to reproduce with similar results on this tour.
And it is not just because he wants to put the boot into the establishment that he believes did the wrong thing by him 16 years ago.
The fact is that Eddie needs a brilliant showing by his team over the next 15 days to earn himself some breathing space from the British media and secure his position with the ruling Rugby Football Union ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup in France.
When Eddie was appointed England coach in 2016, his former Randwick understudy Phil Kearns was asked on the Fox Sports program The Back Page whether he would ‘make or break’ English Rugby.
“I think he will do both,” he answered. “I think in the short term they will be incredibly successful over the next two to three years. The big question is what happens after that?
“He is a very astute coach but there is a point where the fanatical work ethic goes too far.”
Kearns, the man who leapfrogged Eddie to Wallaby selection in 1989, has proved to be very prescient.
Eddie’s England team was incredibly successful in the first three years of his tenure, but since the disappointing loss to the Springboks in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final, things have changed.
It would be going too far to say the wheels have fallen off, but they are definitely looking a little wobbly.
In the last two Six Nations tournaments England has finished fifth and third, winning just two matches in each campaign.
Off the pitch, Eddie’s up-front and combative style has worn thin with British media and club officials, and there is talk that his once rock-solid support in the offices of the RFU is starting to show signs of cracks.
After England was beaten by Grand Slam winners France in the last match of the Six Nations in March, he was asked if he felt he was still the right person to take England to the 2023 World Cup.
“That is not a question I need to answer, I just do my job,” he said, “It’s a question for other people to answer. I am not even thinking about that.”
Even so, a second 3-0 whitewash of the Wallabies on home soil won’t hurt his chances of seeing out his contract which ends after the World Cup, and then, who knows? Maybe another chance to coach the Wallabies?
Kearns, who headed Australia’s successful bid to host the 2027 Rugby World Cup believes that Eddie would be the perfect person to oversee the Wallaby campaign in their home tournament.
Would he be interested? You bet he would.
Just picture it: Eddie Jones, the prodigal son returning after 21 years in the wilderness, stepping past all those who once scoffed and doubted him, to accept the grateful thanks of an adoring public.
As the old saying goes: revenge is a dish best served cold.