The Roar
The Roar



Eddie Jones has performed a coaching master class for the ages

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27th October, 2019
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That crunching sound you are hearing right now is the noise created by me eating my words, very slowly.

In previews of the semi-finals of the World Cup tournament, I supported two propositions.

First, that the final would be between the two southern hemisphere teams, New Zealand and South Africa.

And second, that this tournament would be decided by the success of the attacking onslaughts launched by a creative and often devastating New Zealand side.

Both propositions have been proven wrong.

The ‘creative and often devastating’ New Zealand All Blacks fired pop-guns rather than cannons at their more enterprising opponents, England.

England played one of the great games in Rugby World Cup history. Their rugby writers are proclaiming that their masterful performance in out-playing the All Blacks was the best England performance of all time.

So, instead of two southern hemisphere teams in the finals, we have England, a northern hemisphere nation playing the southern hemisphere game, with three of its coaches being two Australians and a New Zealander.

And we have South Africa, a southern hemisphere nation playing like a northern hemisphere team.


The Wales vs Springboks match was the most boring World Cup semi-final of all time. The best one can say about the winners, South Africa, is that it was less-worse of a performance than that of Wales.

As I say, I am eating my words. I am admitting that my predictions failed the reality test. They must be dismissed as being based on a false analysis.

And the reason for the false analysis is that my predictions were based on the notion that the best attacking side was going to win this tournament.

But in hindsight I realise that the usual rule is that the best defensive side wins the World Cup tournament.

The point here is that in the first eight World Cup tournaments five of the winners have been sides that were not the All Blacks. These five sides had the best defensive record for the tournament, not the best attacking record.

The clearest example of the notion that defence wins World Cup tournaments is the 1999 Wallabies who conceded only one try in the entire tournament.

It just so happens, and it surely is not a coincidence, that when the side with the best attacking record has won the World Cup, that side, in three tournaments, 1987, 2011, 2015, was the All Blacks.

In other words, when the All Blacks do not win the World Cup, in six of the nine tournaments (including this one in Japan), the best defense will win it.


And now that they have been booted out of the final by a rampant England side, it is official that the All Blacks will not win the 2019 World Cup.

Kieran Read dejected.

(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

So the main take from England’s stunning triumph over the All Blacks is that on the very big rugby occasions like a World Cup semi-final, victory is generally based on defence.

The truth is that if you restrict your opposition to seven points as England did to the All Blacks, you only have score eight points to win.

Before the semi-final, the All Blacks had dominated their opponents in this tournament with a peacock flourish of dazzling attacking statistics.

They led the tournament statistics with an average of 50.8 points a match, 7.3 tries a match, run metres 954m, line breaks 9.8, tackle busts 35.5 and 18.8 off-loads.

A further statistic is that when the All Blacks have 10 or more off-loads, they have won 27 out of 29 Tests since 2016.

In games where they have been kept to fewer than 10, the All Blacks had three losses and a draw.


Finally, the All Blacks had the best tackling record, 88 per cent completion, and the most forced penalties at the breakdown – eight.

So the problem facing Eddie Jones and his coaching staff was how to reduce the number of points the All Blacks scored.

A very comprehensive, clever and multi-faceted game plan was put in place:

Dominate the breakdown to ensure that the All Blacks were having to attack with slow ball and, conversely, forcing them to defend against a backline getting front line ball.

England used its middle row of aggressive and athletic forwards, Sam Underhill, Tom Curry, Courtney Lawes and Maro Itoje, together with the monster centre Manu Tuilagi, playing more as a flanker/centre, to attack the All Blacks at the breakdown.

The result was that the All Blacks backs and forwards were on the back foot whenever got the ball on attack. This was not too often anyway, because England used its possession to keep the All Blacks deep inside their own territory by kicking 37 times for 882m.

Just as an aside, I thought that the All Blacks made several elementary mistakes throughout the match.

Where were the inside passes and running at the weaker inside shoulders?


Where was the nous to make England play from deep inside their territory?

I thought early on in the match that the All Blacks were on the wrong course when they did short kick-offs, drop outs and only occasionally kicked long.

And why, oh why didn’t they contest the rucks with the same ferocious intensity as England?

From lineouts and rucks, England won 16 turnovers and conceded hardly any themselves.

Impressive as all this is about the England game, the most impressive aspect is that they have played their boss-man game and yet conceded very few penalties.

In 2016, in Eddie Jones’s first season, England gave away 10.6 penalties a match.

This World Cup they conceded 29 penalties in their four matches, averaging just a fraction over 7 penalties a match.

Moreover, England were the only team in the quarter-finals who have not received a yellow or red card. The All Blacks had three yellow cards awarded against them.


It was England’s discipline in not giving away many penalties and avoiding any cards that was the cornerstone of their successful performance against the All Blacks.

And then there was the challenging but respectful way England met the challenge of the All Blacks haka.

The England V formation seeped across the field. Officials tried to force players back. But the massive, frightening figure of Joe Marler was not be budged.

I always like it when a coach comes up with a little distraction that may disconcert, even if slightly, the opposition.

And it was clear from the reaction of the All Blacks that they were slightly nonplussed by England’s unexpected reaction to the haka.

In hindsight, the All Blacks never really recovered from that first disconcerting haka challenge.

Finally, coach Eddie Jones backed up his tactics of breakdown and tackle pressure with a strategy designed to confront the All Blacks with a series of plays most likely, at the time, to be the most confronting for them.

Eddie Jones

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

So England launched a series of attacks, direct and then wide, with runners coming into the tackle with square shoulder, right at the beginning of the game.

Having scored their early try, England then kicked long for territory and concentrated on a defence that has conceded very few line breaks in the tournament (second best to the Springboks) and forcing turnovers (also second best to the tournament).

This concertina-type of strategy, opening up and then closing down the game, was applied throughout the match depending on the ebb and flow of the game.

The crucial point in the match came just after, against the run of all the play, the All Blacks scored a try, converted by Richie Mo’oanga, making the scoreline 13 – 7.

The All Blacks were within a converted try of an unlikely victory.

Then George Ford kicked long and deep inside the All Blacks 22.

Geordie Barrett had time to boot the ball back down field. Instead, seemingly making a spur of the moment decision, he charged into an England defender. He spilled the ball forward trying to make an off-load.

England converted this possession a little later into a successful penalty and with a scoreline of 16 – 7 it was inevitable that a famous victory was about to happen for England.

Now all this reflects terrific coaching by the entire coaching staff.

But the head coach, Eddie Jones, had the most important task of raising the skill levels of the players so that they could shift seamlessly into the various modes of playing that the specific circumstances required.

He also was responsible for what was going on in their heads.

His seemingly relaxed manner in the build-up to the game spread an aura of confidence in the players that they could do what they, Jones and the other coaches desperately wanted them to do.

They did not just defeat the All Blacks. They smashed them.

The Australian rugby community and the media have started a campaign to bring Eddie Jones back to Australia to coach the Wallabies.

You have to think that the time this sort of pressure should have been applied was after England defeated the Wallabies 3 – 0 a couple of years ago.

Jones showed then that he had evolved as a coach from the snarky control freak he was during his days with the Brumbies and the Wallabies.

He had become, as I wrote at the time, a mentor coach rather than a harangue coach.

The point I made is that harangue coaches (Michael Cheika is the best/worst current example) often have quick, early success.

But this success, as with Jones’ disastrous stint with the Queensland Reds and Cheika’s last two years with the Wallabies, never lasts.

Whereas mentor coaches, with their emphasis on giving their players the physical and mental skills to control how they play at different times in matches, remain longer in their coaching roles and enjoy more lasting success.

The way Jones has built this England side side into a disciplined team of achievers has been most impressive. A victory in the World Cup final is now a strong possibility for England.

The players are the ones who did the job.

But England’s coaches, especially their charismatic head coach, Eddie Jones, provided the players with the tools, practical and emotional, to go on and do the job.

Steve Hansen, another great mentor coach, said before the World Cup semi-final, he hoped we got a match “for the ages.”

He got and the rugby world got, instead, was a coaching performance from Eddie Jones that was just that.