England head coach Eddie Jones had expected to spend his summer back in Japan, masterminding a two-test tour through the country where his team reached the Rugby World Cup final last November.
COVID-19 put paid to those plans, but his involvement in the World Rugby Virtual High Performance Academy has ensured he has been kept busy during lockdown.
Jones joined two of his assistant coaches from Japan 2019, Steve Borthwick and Scott Wisemantel, as well as another former England lieutenant, Paul Gustard, in sharing his considerable knowledge with the participants of the online programme’s coaching stream.
Jones delivered online sessions on unstructured attack and creating a high performance environment as part of the Virtual HPA, which was attended by 265 coaches, match officials and other staff, drawn from 33 unions.
“The great thing about rugby, there's no secrets,” Jones said. “You know, it's a pretty simple game.
“We've all got a way of doing it, and the more you share how you do it, the more you've got to keep looking for new ways to do it a little bit better.”
Leading a virtual discussion
The Virtual HPA was launched during the pandemic to help mitigate the impact of the global lockdown on World Rugby’s efforts to up-skill union high performance staff.
Coaching webinars were also led by Mike Cron, Laurie Fisher and Dave Hadfield, while World Rugby’s General Manager for Women’s Rugby, Katie Sadleir, and Mike McGovern headed up the high performance stream alongside Jones.
With participants drawn from so many unions, Jones had the opportunity to connect with coaches from every corner of the globe, something he clearly enjoyed.
“It's great to share knowledge. They've been fascinating days. You know, you start in the Pacific and you end up in the Americas in the course of one day,” the England coach said.
“We put together a presentation to elicit some ideas, really, some thoughts that we've been able to generate. And it's followed up by a virtual discussion over coffee or beer or whatever it is.
“And that's the enjoyable part, talking to the other coaches around the world, hearing their experiences, sharing a bit of your knowledge and seeing where we can take it.”
World Rugby Coach of the Year 2017, Jones has enjoyed a glittering coaching career that has taken him from Australia to Japan, South Africa and England.
He has lifted the Webb Ellis Cup, won Six Nations Grand Slams and Bledisloe Cups, but he says he can still learn by listening to the “cultural nuances” of different coaches and countries.
“It makes you realise that within every country there are traditional structures,” Jones added.
“You've got to work out whether those traditional structures are beneficial for the game now or are holding the game back.
“And it just makes you more curious about looking to see what are the obstacles [stopping] you moving the game forward, and what are the opportunities to move forward?
“I think every country in their own way has that.”
‘It gives you that community’
One coach who certainly took a lot out of the sessions is Lesley McKenzie. The Japan Women’s head coach was enrolled on both the coaching and women’s coaching streams of the Virtual HPA.
According to McKenzie, the programme not only afforded her the opportunity to learn from some established coaches, but has also given her the sense that she is part of a global network at a time when some people may be feeling isolated.
“It gives you that community again, and we all got into this game because of community,” the Canadian said.
“It's fantastic to actually group coaches from those nations who are developing the game. We're all products of our coaching environments and a lot of us come from those nations who are maybe less accelerated in the game, either through professionalisation or what have you.
“So, it's an opportunity to hear that perspective from another angle, from another part of the world, and maybe hear some new solutions.”