Eddie Jones, left, and Clive Woodward enjoying a lighter moment despite the great rivalry the pair experienced during the 2003 World Cup. Photograph: David Rogers/ Getty Images
Given the weight of advice offered from home and abroad, English ears will have been burning at their headquarters in Surrey this week when their most significant critic for a decade and more conceded that Stuart Lancaster’s side should make it to the World Cup final.
As that judgment – “the semi-finals at least” – came from Eddie Jones, there were bound to be caveats. However, coming from the mouth that baited England all the way to their 2003 title, it came close to glowing testament.
After all, the pre-match and post‑match spats between Jones and Clive Woodward in the runup to that extra-time, wrong-footed drop goal in Sydney and the celebratory parades through London that followed were almost as brutal and cruel as the games themselves. Or so we thought.
Earlier this week, during a break from coaching his current side, Japan, before their campaign, Jones admitted he had more than a grudging regard for Woodward and that while their words made headlines, he and the England coach always had time to catch up later. He had even come close to joining England when, post 2007, Twickenham was trying to get English rugby on track by appointing a director of rugby.
Woodward himself was interested, as was Rob Andrew. However, it now seems that Jones, fresh from being a technical adviser to the South Africa team that had beaten England to the 2007 World Cup, was given sufficient encouragement to do a little research into the chances of working at Twickenham only to get word from a friend sufficiently close to the RFU decision-makers that “they want an Englishman”.
So England got Andrew – a far less abrasive option than either of the former national coaches – and Jones moved on, first of all back to Saracens, then on to Japan, for three years coaching the club side Suntory Sungoliath and since 2012 the national side, with whom he is currently based in Bristol preparing for their opening pool game, against South Africa in Brighton.
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After the World Cup Jones is on the move again, probably to the Stormers in Cape Town and the prospect of another spell in Super Rugby, although he insists “nothing is signed as yet”.
He also insists that he is not walking out on Japan in their hour of need, as some suggest. The vultures have been gathering, sensing Japan might not be able to stage the 2019 World Cup it has been awarded – alarm bells went off when the government cancelled a new national stadium – and doubts are being raised about the practicability of a Super Rugby franchise desperately needed by a country which tends to tempt overseas players to play possibly only 15 games a season for financial rewards rather than the rigour of competition.
“I always thought I could do four years here. Give it a good four years, ” says Jones. “I’m 55 now, I’ve may be got 10 years left and I want to do different things. Would have been easy for me to stay, but I want a new challenge, want to move on.”