England coach Eddie Jones selected Courtney Lawes to play alongside Maro Itoje in the second row on Friday when he named a strong side to face Tonga in Sunday’s rugby World Cup Pool C opener.
The first time I ever laid eyes on Eddie Jones, he was a cheeky little bugger playing hooker for a crack Matraville High School side in Sydney.
That was 42 years ago and he’s still a cheeky little bugger, but one of the world’s best coaches.
The now 59-year-old started his international career with the Wallabies from 2001 to 2005, capturing the Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations immediately, another Bledisloe in 2002, and reaching the Rugby World Cup final in 2003 – losing to England with a Jonny Wilkinson drop goal in extra time.
The next appointment in his nomadic career was as assistant to coach Jake White, when the Springboks won their second World Cup, in 2007.
Jones was universally credited with the vastly improved Bok backline that clinched the Cup.
Japan was Jones’ third international appointment, from 2012 to 2015, highlighted by the stunning 34-32 win in extra time over South Africa in the 2015 World Cup. A try in the left-hand corner sealed arguably the biggest shock in the tournament’s history.
Jones became the first to coach four countries when took over the England job in February 2016, after the men in white had failed to reach the quarters of the previous year’s World Cup.
They immediately won the Six Nations Grand Slam for the first time in 13 years, and followed that with the Championship in 2017.
There was a hiccup last year, finishing fifth with only two wins, which had knockers calling for his head.
Wiser heads prevailed, and just as well, Jones bouncing back this season with a first round 32-20 defeat of last year’s Slammers, Ireland, followed by a 44-8, six tries to one, hammering of the French.
That places Jones on track for a second Grand Slam.
Next up Italy, where Jones could declare at half-time, then Scotland, finishing with Wales as the likely Slam decider on March 16.
So where does Jones stand in the pecking order of international coaches since February 2016?
Predictably, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen shows the way, with 36 wins from 41 internationals, for an 87.80 per cent success rate.
Jones has run Hansen close, with 30 from 37 for 81.08 per cent.
Ireland’s Joe Schmidt is third, with 27 from 37 for 72.97.
There are seven months and eight days until the 2019 Rugby World Cup kickoff in Japan. If any coach is going to stop the All Blacks from lifting a record third successive William Webb Ellis Trophy, it could only be Jones or Schmidt.
Back the cheeky little bugger.