DURBAN - A Test match at hostile Ellis Park against the Springboks is one of the great occasions for touring countries, according to England coach Eddie Jones.
The England team arrived at their base in Umhlanga Rocks on Sunday afternoon and with their hotel boundary being the beach and the sea a stone’s throw from the room balconies, the ever-colourful Jones said he could think of no better place to be based for a rugby tour.
“Why are we here for the duration of the tour? Well take a look at that ...” a beaming Jones said pointing to the Indian Ocean. “This is one of the great places in the world and having been in South Africa before (too many times to count given his coaching stints with the Brumbies, the Reds and the Wallabies) I feel it is good to have a base and at this time of the year. It suits us to be somewhere warm and with a good environment to train in. The players enjoy that.”
The England squad is missing a few big names because of injury but it is the strongest side Jones could pick and the coach admitted that this tour was something of a balancing act between getting back to winning ways after a disappointing Six Nations and building towards the World Cup.
“Yeah we want to win every Test we play but there has to be an eye on the World Cup,” Jones said before illustrating his point with one of his famous metaphors. “It is like being out on a wave on the ocean out there ... you have to get the balance right - get it right and you stay up on your surfboard, get it wrong and you fall off. We want to stay up and surf to the edge of the beach.”
Jones, of course, was a key part of Jake White’s Springbok coaching staff at the 2007 World Cup and he was asked if that had given him a valuable insight into the South African rugby psyche.
“Whenever you play against opposition you like to try and understand what makes them feel good, what their strengths are,” he said. “When you coach against teams a number of times or you have been involved with that team, it can help you.”
📸 The England squad photo ahead of the upcoming tour of South Africa. pic.twitter.com/mQU4pcpChS
And Jones added that he had a very good idea of how the Boks will play because of his knowledge of Rassie Erasmus’ coaching tenures with the Cheetahs, Stormers and Munster.
“He will bring back traditional Springbok values, such as strong defence, a powerful physical game, good chasing, and strong set pieces. All the teams he has coached have had those attributes. I don’t expect the Boks to bring anything less than that.”
Erasmus has picked a number of new players in his greater squad and Jones said it was difficult for him to gain too much from the squad list.
“It is hard for me to say but everybody knows there are some good players here, plus Rassie has brought good players back from Europe. The Boks will play with enormous pride and passion in the Bok jersey, that much we do know.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s first Test, Jones said the squad was brimming with excitement.
“It is fantastic,” he enthused. “In world rugby who do you want to beat? The Boks at Ellis Park for sure. It is a spiritual home of rugby. Anybody who knows anything about rugby remembers that 1995 World Cup final and the change that had for rugby, the change it meant for the country, the value it had for sport in general. So to play the first Test at Ellis Park in a three-Test series is very special.”
Jones finished his first press conference back on SA soil with a flourish.
“Do I recall watching the ‘95 World Cup final? Sure I do. Very well in fact. It was in Sydney and my wife and I had just got married. We had a little baby, Chelsea, and my wife was doing the ironing and I was watching the rugby ...”