Eddie Jones was in spiky form this week – but he has a long track record of mind games and a thick skin
The week before England’s Six Nations game against Scotland was one of the strangest weeks on Planet Eddie since he took over in December 2015 but we should have seen it coming.
Eddie Jones is a master of deflecting attention from his team and this week it was all about Eddie – just as it was after Italy had put a spanner in the England works a fortnight before. And, frankly, if a bloke has presided over as long a winning streak as Jones has done he is probably entitled to say what he likes. He is probably even entitled to his Twickenham tirade after the win over Italy in the third round of the tournament.
But some observers reckon he was miffed after the Italy game because the opposing coaches, Conor O’Shea and Brendan Venter, had managed to get in the ear of referee Romain Poite and had effectively got one over him.
So he had a crack and most of the words in the Monday papers were concentrating on what Jones said rather than his team’s inability to adapt to the Italians’ tactics for 40 minutes – but let’s not forget, Jones has been on the other side of the fence.
Jones has tried to get in the ear of referees before. During the 2003 World Cup, when Jones was in charge of the Wallabies, he was preparing his side for a match against Romania, in Brisbane, which they would eventually win 90-8.
Jones had bigger fish to fry and at one of the pre-match press conferences he showed the assembled hacks a video. It was of England, who the Aussies were not due to play for about a month, and what he perceived as their illegal use of a truck-and-trailer maul. He was simply putting some doubt in the minds of referees who would be officiating England further down the line.
In the final, which England won in extra-time, Clive Woodward’s team got on the wrong side of the referee, Andre Watson, and whether Jones had anything to do with that has never been clear. But the Australians were on the verge of winning the World Cup and you would not have put it past him to have a word with Watson ahead of the match.
And back in 2000, when he was in charge of the Brumbies, Jones had a ding-dong with the Crusaders coach Robbie Deans over their legality at the line-out. He has been doing it for donkeys’ and he will continue to do it if it keeps the heat off his squad.
And in this Six Nations the mind games have continued. There was the saga with the roof in Cardiff and wondering if the Scotland team could handle the ‘expectations of a nation’. It is all good copy and it means the last thing that gets written about is his team. Jones has a thick enough skin to not worry about what is written about him – he is just worried about winning. And if that means copping some flak from the press, then so be it.
England had not hit their straps in the first three games of the tournament, Jones knows it and he is king of setting the agenda. So there was no chat about world records, Grand Slams or a slightly mis-firing team.
Ahead of Scotland it was about all about a dog.
Jones is usually eminently quotable but was not quite in his normal league on Thursday when he, and the some of his players, tried to persuade the press that Owen Farrell had been injured in a tangle with Jones’ dog Annie.
“He could be in doubt, mate,” Jones said: “Could be in doubt. He’s got a bad leg, so he couldn’t finish training. I think he ran into my dog, he ran into her! He’ll be alright. I think he’ll be alright.
“Annie is a pretty tricky runner and sometimes she gets off the leash. He just ran into someone at training – as simple as that. He’ll be alright, possibly.” That cleared that one up then.
And, on Tuesday, we had the whiteboards episode. At training one enterprising photographer took pictures of two white boards that appeared to give a strong hint to England’s starting line-up for the Calcutta Cup match.
The squad was training with 13 men against 15, a common method, and the boards seemed to tell us that Jonathan Joseph, Ben Youngs and Jack Nowell would all be back in the run-on team and so would Billy Vunipola. And sure enough Joseph, Youngs and Nowell were all promoted but Vunipola was not.
Big Billy is a big player for England and has been big news recently after he came back from a knee injury and played for Saracens the weekend before. But come Thursday, he was named on the bench and Jones was up to his old tricks again.
“The Daily Telegraph picked him for us and we decided we’d change our minds,” he said. “We didn’t say he was going to start. The boards weren’t left out by accident.”
The boards might not have been left out by accident – and they did hoodwink some people – but nothing Jones ever does is an accident. Jones has given us a lot to write about since taking the England job – he even gives us something to write about when he says nothing.