The Secret To Eddie Jones Coaching England To Victory Over Wallabies
Posted by Dean Holden at July 15th, 2016
by Peter FitzSimons, 29 June 2016
Being successful in sport – it’s really not that complicated.
Which brings me to how Eddie Jones managed to coach England to nine wins straight, including three straight wins over Australia.
But already I am ahead of myself, and need to take a Dennis Lillee run-up that might be familiar to you …
See, 25 years ago before a Test against the All Blacks, Bob Dwyer talked to us for 45 minutes about how he wanted us to play, most particularly the back line. I really concentrated, but could only get 5 per cent, at best, of what he was on about. Afterwards, I asked the captain Nick Farr-Jones, if he understood.
“Ninety eight per cent of it,” Nick said broadly, “was run straight, draw your man, and set up the bloke outside you.”
BINGO! The essence of it was simple and the rest was just needless complications. I got it.
Then, 10 years ago at a rugby lunch in Perth, a Super 12 coach was holding forth on the art of coaching by statistics, on how it was done in the modern day, courtesy of statisticians, computers, and endless analysis of the games his own team had played, and those played by their forthcoming opponents.
“For we have done the work,” I broadly recall him saying, as part of a general theme. “And we now understand that on average, Richie McCaw will touch the ball 67.234 times in a match, and if we don’t get him below 59.892 times, we won’t win the match. Same with turnovers. The Crusaders on average have 9.543 turnovers in a match, and they never lose a match when their turnovers are below 6.423, while our turnovers are now at 10.436 and we’ve never won a match when it is higher than 14.304 times and …
And so on.
He sat down, to rather stunned silence, quickly filled by the MC, Ray Seger, who brought the house down when he said: “I don’t know if that was a rugby speech, or a f—— BINGO call!”
Nor do I. Personally, I was stunned at the time that rugby could have become that complicated and asked one of his players afterwards just how much those kind of stats actually guided what they did on field.
“It gives you a rough guide,” he replied equably, “but no more than that.”
I took heart, encouraged in my view that most of the eternal verities I knew of what formed the basis of a good rugby team were still exactly that, and they had not been superseded by modern mumbo-jumbo that I truly suspected didn’t amount to much more than a hill of beans on a bad day.
I took equal joy from a comment by Adam Gilchrist a few years ago, concerning the age-old talking point among cricket boffins on whether or not a pitch would, or would not take spin on the fifth day.
Well, Gilchrist, who was still playing at the time said he never looked at the state of a pitch before the beginning of a game, because neither he nor anybody had the slightest clue about whether it will take spin on the fifth day …
Steve Waugh, meantime, acknowledged he never looks at the hands of a wrist spinner to see which way the ball comes out to try to work out whether it’s going to be a flipper, googly, Chinaman or up-the-Windsor-Road-from-Baulkham-Hills-and-how’s-your mother. He just kept his eyes right on the ball the whole way and belted the bloody thing.
Such yarns confirmed my strongly-held belief that sport was never actually meant to be that complicated, and that those who pretended it was rocket surgery risked losing their way, just as coaches who succumbed to it risked having their teams lose their way.
Which brings me to Eddie Jones, last Monday morning, speaking at a breakfast put on by the Hunters Hill Rugby Club. To the England coach’s eternal credit – and demonstrating his commitment to the grass-roots of the game – despite being rugby’s Messiah of the Moment, Eddie took the stage to be interviewed by Gordon Bray, just as he had agreed to do three months previously, before turning into that Messiah.
And it was spell-binding.
No talk of red-zones, green-zones, black-zones. No gibberish about channels. No percentage plays.
He talked mostly about the importance of picking players with the right character and then working them harder than the teams they were playing against.
I am paraphrasing, because I wasn’t taking notes like a grown-up journo, but broadly what he said was this, and the last two sentences are exact quotes: “You can make statistics do anything you like, and some coaches really believe in them, but I don’t. There are only two statistics we look at. Firstly, how long does it take a player to get up off the ground and get back in his place for defence. Secondly, how long it takes a player to get up off the ground and get back in his place for attack.”
Here, I repeat, was the Messiah of the Moment – and no doubt for some years to come – saying when it all boiled down to it, the game really isn’t that complicated, and if you get the basics right, and fill it with fit blokes who really want to have a go, the rest will take care of itself!
Music to my cauliflower ears.
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