They say hindsight gives you a better perspective on things – though this isn’t always the case.
Take the Vietnam War as an example. Revisionist thinking says nearing the end of the Vietnam War most Australians were against the war. This isn’t true, statistics say that little over half of the Australian population were against the Vietnam War. But factors such as personal experience can influence how we perceive past events.
The same holds true for rugby. If you were to ask somebody about Alan Jones’ reign as Australian coach, many will refer to that terrible year for the Wallabies – 1987. That year had a terrible impact on Jones’ legacy, to the point that Wallabies such as Michael Lynagh, Andrew Slack, and Simon Poidevin later confessed to being outraged when Jones’ accomplishments were belittled in the Australian media.
John Swords wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that Jones inherited a great side and that even he could have coached the Wallabies to the Grand Slam. Tony Jones in the Times on Sunday claimed Jones had severe limitations as a coach.
That was 1987, and sadly his contributions are still belittled today.
It’s worth going back into time and reading what many people wrote of Alan Jones in the hugely successful period of 1984-1986:
“British critics bracket Jones with their own beloved Carwyn James as the greatest-ever coach of a rugby team.” – Terry Smith ‘Path to Victory – Wallaby Power in the 1980s’
“What a transformation came over Australian Rugby Union in the ‘eighties! In my time the Wallabies were, for the most part, a pushover; some light entertainment in between taking on the All Blacks or the Springboks. But along came a great coach who inspired them to great deeds in the next decade, including an all-conquering tour of the United Kingdom.” – Gareth Edwards ‘100 Great Rugby Players’
“I’ll be quite controversial and say an enormous amount of it (Australia’s success), from our angle in the United Kingdom, would be the coach, Alan Jones. I think he was quite a remarkable man.” – British broadcaster Ian Robertson ‘The Rise and Rise of Australian Rugby’
Alan Jones had several traits that worked in his favour.
Firstly he was not tied down to dogma like Bob Dwyer was. While Dwyer was known for wanting ball players, Alan Jones recognised the value of having a specialist line-out jumper such as Steve Cutler.
Dwyer deserves credit for first selecting Cutler for the 1982 tour to New Zealand, however by 1983 Cutler was placed on the scrap-heap and believed he’d never play for Australia again.
Jones told Cutler he was the first player chosen for his side, and instilled in him a confident that turned him into the best line-out exponent of the 80s. Gary Whetton once said of Cuter that, “On his day, he was probably the best line-out jumper the world had ever seen, because you couldn’t beat him.” But nobody but Jones saw him for what he was capable of.
In fact Alan Jones placed a greater emphasis on the set-piece than any other Australian coach before him. His omission of Chris Roche was incredibly shrewd, but his obsession with height in the line-out resulted in the selection of David Codey – a valued member of the Wallaby squad for years to come.
And while a half-wit would have known to select Topo Rodriguez in any side, Alan Jones constantly paid for a scrum machine (out of his own pocket – these were the amateur days) to be dragged around the UK in 1984 and New Zealand in 1986.
Jones was a great selector too. While the like of Nick Farr-Jones were earmarked by the likes of Michael Hawker as a player for the future, the rookie Farr-Jones was a raw talent that didn’t quite have the crisp pass he’d develop later in his career.
Jones didn’t mind and selected him, at the expense of Phillip Cox, for the 1984 Grand Slam tour. Two tries came from Farr-Jones going down the blind against Wales, and Farr-Jones’ try against Scotland was marvellous as well.
Australia was constantly hampered by a lack of a goal-kicker throughout the early 80s, and particularly during Bob Dwyer’s reign. Jones recognised the ability of Lynagh and inserted him into the inside centre position at the expense of an in-form Michael Hawker.
I want to make this very clear. Australia would not have won the 1984 Grand Slam without Alan Jones. After watching all four Tests, it’s my opinion that Australia would have lost the game against Ireland without him. They would have lost because it was eventually Australia’s height in the line-out which gave them enough possession to win that game in the last 10 minutes.
Mark Ella, who’s made some strange contradictory statements about Jones in the past, has at least said Jones was a precursor to the like of Clive Woodward and Rod MacQueen in his professional approach. Jones was the first rugby coach in history to have assistance coaches, and would often hand out dossiers on his opposition.
To his credit, Bob Dwyer decided to keep some of the Jones ways when he overthrew him in 1988. Even more credit should go to Dwyer for acknowledging Jones’ contributions in the 80s as part of the reason for his success in 1991.
While Australia has had some great sides during the 20th century in the 20s (such as the 27-28 Waratah’s), the 30s, the late 40s (with Trevor Allen and Col Windon), the 60s (particularly that ’63 side), it’s the 1984 Grand Slam tour that’s seen as the point where Australia became a superpower.
Australian Rugby owes a great deal to Alan Jones for changing the mould of what a rugby coach should be.
Simon Poidevin commented on the special attributed on Jones in his autobiography, ‘For Love Not Money’:
“While Tempo and Dwyer were leaders in their field in specific areas, Jones was undoubtedly the master coach and the best I’ve ever played under. He was a freak. Australian Rugby was very fortunate to have had a person with his extraordinary ability to coach our national team. New Zealand’s Fred Allen and the British Lions’ Carwyn James are probably the other most remarkable coaches of modern times. But given Alan Jones’ skills in so many areas, and his record, probably no other Rugby nation in the world has had anyone quite like him, and perhaps none ever will.” – Simon Poidevin ‘For Love Not Money’
Despite whatever difficulties they had with one another, Roger Gould has gone on record many times saying Jones was the best coach he ever had.
His contributions should therefore be recognised by placing him in the Australia Rugby Union Hall of Fame class of 2009.