I had the privilege on Sunday night of presenting Eddie Jones with the World Rugby coach of the year award in Monte Carlo and I can’t think of a more deserving recipient on a number of levels.
His record of nine wins out of 10 this year and 22 wins in 23 games since taking over after the debacle of the last World Cup is outstanding.
Test rugby is a tough unforgiving arena and although by a quirk of the fixture list England have not played the All Blacks during that period, they have met every other team of note and beaten them including five wins on the trot against Australia.
Eddie Jones is the first England coach to win the award since Sir Clive Woodward in 2003
Receiving his award Eddie demonstrated classic leadership using what I call ‘window and the mirror’. He looked through the window and praised his whole team and back room staff and said it was their award not his. I know Eddie will also always look at himself IN the mirror. When things go wrong, he takes responsibility and doesn’t blame others
At the awards ceremony, he said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen should probably have won it because New Zealand were undoubtedly the No 1 team in the world. Generous words and a great mindset.
It was right that Eddie’s achievement be recognised but you know with him that he won’t be truly happy until he has won the World Cup.
Jones has won 22 of his 23 games in charge since taking over after the World Cup debacle
Speaking to a few England players on Sunday evening it is clear they fully appreciate Jones and his hard work. No doubt he’s a tough taskmaster but he is also very loyal to those who respond.
The number one priority of any coach is to win the next game. That is what you and your team will always be judged on, no matter how much you wish for breathing space. There is no such thing in international sport. It is cut-throat and ruthless which is something only those who have been in the hot- seat can fully appreciate.
He started with a squad low in confidence after a humiliating home World Cup. There was a short-term fix required so Eddie started to crack the whip.
He is a very demanding coach behind the scenes despite his humorous persona in front of the cameras. Those he didn’t rate were dropped or told to prove themsevles, those who weren’t in shape have been told to get fit. That is an ongoing process, Eddie reckons England can still improve their fitness by 20%, while I’d suggest that is on the generous side. Supreme fitness is non-negotiable and allows you to play a World Cup final against the best in the world from start to finish.
Head coach Jones is a tough taskmaster but he is also very loyal to his England players
The great thing about Eddie is that he has been there and got the T shirt, there is no substitute for experience and that includes failure. He rarely misses a trick and defends his team tigerishly in public even if he dispenses plenty of hard words in private.
Eddie is riding on a high and for English rugby long may that continue.
I sense 2018 could be a challenging year with Ireland and Scotland and maybe Wales posing a mighty threat in the Six Nations, then a summer tour of South Africa. There could be dips on the graph, but Eddie has so much credit in the bank that whatever unfolds in 2018 this team will be ready for the World Cup in 2019. That is his one and only goal.
Win the World Cup and they’ll earn a spot
I’m a little disappointed but not surprised there are no rugby union players on the Sports Personality shortlist, despite a fantastic Lions series and a second England Six Nations title on the trot.
Both Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell made it on to the shortlist for World Rugby player of the year so it feels like one player at least should have made the final 12.
World class Maro Itoje has starred for Saracens, England and the Lions in 2017
Having said that, British sport across the board is so strong that the gold standard is a world title or an event acclaimed as being the most prestigious in its sport, such as the Tour de France. Anything less tends to be close, but no cigar.
The cast list of British sporting champions is extraordinary, ranging from the incredible Adam Peaty to Chris Froome, Lewis Hamilton, the Brownlees, Anthony Joshua and Max Whitlock.
The other thing that needs stressing is that as the ultimate team game, becoming a big individual name within rugby is difficult, let alone becoming a national celebrity.
Since SPOTY started in 1954, Jonny Wilkinson is the only rugby player ever to win the title, in 2003 when Martin Johnson finished second. Will Carling, Leigh Halfpenny, Willie John McBride and Barry John have also featured on the podium.
So there is a message for rugby. If England, or one of the other home nations, wins the 2019 World Cup, I can pretty much guarantee the key player or captain will win that year.