Alan Jones should be in the Australia Rugby Hall of Fame

Frank O'Keeffe Roar Rookie

By Frank O'Keeffe, Frank O'Keeffe is a Roar Rookie

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    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.

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    The Crowd Says (30)

    • June 15th 2009 @ 9:05am
      Maxxy said | June 15th 2009 @ 9:05am | ! Report

      Nice article Frank – My only problem with your justification is that you have cited a couple of players who are in the Jones camp as supporters whereas many in the rugby world know that there were numerous players who had the different opinions. The way things fell apart around the 1987 RWC is an example – If you have read the Masters book then the “polarisation” of support is clearly outlined. From a rugby success point of view 1984 and 1986 where great years which should be acknowledged- what is the criteria for Hall of Fame entry?

    • June 15th 2009 @ 10:38am
      Tom said | June 15th 2009 @ 10:38am | ! Report

      Alan Jones should be put in the Australian Rugby Hall of Fame and left there.

    • June 15th 2009 @ 10:47am
      Frank O'Keeffe said | June 15th 2009 @ 10:47am | ! Report


      I disagree. Roger Gould was by no means in ‘the Jones camp’. Gould and Jones left on pretty unhappy terms I believe. Gould was injured during the 1987 World Cup but stayed on as a manager. He eventually left the camp because the Wallaby squad was very unhappy.

      Despite this, Gould has said several times that Jones is the best coach he ever had.

      Mark Ella is another person who’s had his difficulties with Jones (and said some contradictory things about him), but he at least said Jones was a precurser to the likes of Clive Woodward and Rod MacQueen.

      I did mention the likes of Poidevin, Slack and Lynagh, two of which were well known supporters of Jones. But I think it balances out quite nicely.

    • June 15th 2009 @ 11:23am
      sheek said | June 15th 2009 @ 11:23am | ! Report


      Incredibly good stuff, as usual. I’m one of those who has changed my views on Alan Jones over the years, & I agree with pretty well everything you have said. Put Alan Jones in the Wallaby hall of fame!

      I agree Dwyer wouldn’t have achieved the same success as Jones, precisely because of his dogma. By the time Dwyer returned in 1988, he had a better appreciation (slightly!) of the importance of the set piece.

      It’s also ironic Ella was a long time critic of Jones’ supposed conservative style. What it took a long time for Ella, Campese & other proponents of the running game to appreciate (me included) is that Ella would have thrived under Jones’ coaching had he remained in the game. Why?

      Because with the powerful forward set-up Jones established between 1984-86, it allowed/would have allowed Ella to weave his magic even more, with regular, good ball!

      Anyone who watched the Wallabies in the early 80s would recall with dismay how the Wallabies tried to launch outrageous attacks often with both minimal & bad ball. The 1981/82 tour stands as a sentinal that no matter how good your backline, you still have to win decent, consistent possession.

      Just one more thing, it’s a shame the Bledisloe Cup was lost in 1984, but I guess that was needed for some harsh lessons to be learnt. I watched all 3 tests firsthand that year.

      In the first test, the Wallabies did everything right they needed to, but I can’t believe the complacency that enveloped the team in the 2nd test. After going to an early lead of 12-0, they thought this was all too easy. By the time they got back into the test, it was too late.

      The 3rd test was diabolical, totally ruined by a whistle-happy ref. The Wallabies failed to adjust to the ref, & Ella, Hawker & Slack spent too much of their time arguing with each other over tactics.

      It was after this test, Jones decided that while Slack was the captain, Ella was in charge of tactics, & Lynagh must replace Hawker, both as goal-kicker, & to add greater thrust in midfield.

      Jones’ decision to take the radio host gig in 1987, & train the team in the afternoons, wasn’t a well advised decision. Jones was distracted, & this affected the team’s direction & morale. I still think the Wallabies of 1987 were a potent force, but they had become unhappy campers.

      I could say much more, but I would only be repeating your comments. Great work, Frank!

    • June 15th 2009 @ 12:50pm
      Frank O'Keeffe said | June 15th 2009 @ 12:50pm | ! Report


      Here is the criteria for being in the Wallaby Hall of Fame:

      “Each year two or more of Australia’s greats from all eras of the international game are inducted into the Wallaby Hall of Fame. Inductees are drawn from all Test teams starting with the first side in 1899.
      To be eligible for inclusion in the Wallaby Hall of Fame, a player must have:
      Played at least one Test for Australia
      Been retired from Rugby for at least 10 years
      Made a major contribution to the game of Rugby
      Demonstrated outstanding ability, sportsmanship, commitment, character and personal contribution to their team and the game in their era.
      While consideration is given to a players’ on-field career, induction is not based on statistical achievement alone.”

      Hey Sheek,

      Who else do you think should be inducted this year? Personally I think Michael Lynagh MUST be selected. I can’t think of another worthy contender who’s close to as good as Noddy was. As I’ve said before, no Aussie ever had his range of point scoring abilities – except maybe Matt Burke.

      While I think Poidevin should be inducted very soon, perhaps they shouldn’t induct two players from the same generation. Maybe Peter Johnson should be selected. I’d like to see Johnny Walace in the HOF, but I like to think we could have one forward and one back.

    • June 15th 2009 @ 1:50pm
      Frank O'Keeffe said | June 15th 2009 @ 1:50pm | ! Report

      Aside from a few typos (I wrote this thing at 2am), I also mispelled TOBY JONES. Why does the ‘n’ have to be next to the ‘b’?

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