Eddie Jones is in a tight spot with England but being the underdog suits him

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There have been a few good Eddie Jones stories going round the grounds lately. Joe Simpson told one the other day about the time Jones gave a steak to one of his assistant coaches as an apology for shouting at him. When the coach got home he found out it was a bag of sausages. “You’re not ready for steak yet,” Jones told him.

Here’s another, a little different to some of the others. In 2019, Jones read a Guardian article about an England fan who had travelled to watch the team play in Japan while he was sick with cancer. Jones asked for his number, rang him up and had a long chat with him about his illness, then sent him a Christmas present.

When Jones said last Saturday that he “doesn’t care what people think”, I don’t think for a minute he was talking down to the fans, whom he had made a point of thanking at length for their help when England drew against New Zealand the previous week, but the press, yes, and the players and coaches working as pundits.

Jones’s behaviour when England lose has become wearily familiar. He says it is all his fault, which is his way of drawing the blame from his players, and then, often as not, he picks a fight. Which is why, after seven years of all this, he doesn’t have too many friends left pulling for him when he needs them.

Read Jones’s autobiography and you can see he has been like this since he was a kid. He was the working‑class son of a Japanese-Australian marriage and grew up in a time and place where he felt there was a “hostility that bordered on hatred towards Japan”. He realised early on that sport was his “way to make a mark”, but since he was smaller than most, and looked different too, he knew he needed to try harder than everyone else.

He is the same way now. You can see it in his resentment of the idea that anyone else might know better, in his relentless work ethic and his belief that people need to be challenged to get ahead. Jones loves to make people uncomfortable. He thinks it is good for them.

It’s there, too, in his fondness for players who have a similar background to his own, “I like the guys that have come up the tougher way,” he said, “who have got to keep battling, have got to keep proving themselves”. And in his scepticism about the private school system. It runs through his teams, which he shapes in his own image. The signature wins of his career were against the odds – Japan’s over South Africa in 2015, England’s grand slam in 2016, their semi-final against New Zealand three years later. He is a man who understands, by long and hard-won experience, how to play the underdog.

Eddie Jones, the England head coach, issues instructions to the replacements at half-time during the Rugby World Cup 2019 Semi-Final match between England and New Zealand
Eddie Jones issues instructions to his replacements during the 2019 World Cup semi-final against New Zealand, one of his signature wins. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Which makes him an odd fit for England. If you asked fans around the world to sum up their image of English rugby, you would find “underdog” comes a long way down of the list of…

Read More: Eddie Jones is in a tight spot with England but being the underdog suits him 2022-11-30 13:58:00

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