WARWICK, 8 Oct. – Be it after the pool phase or the quarter-finals, or even beyond, Eddie Jones will be quitting as Japan coach after Rugby World Cup 2015 to take the Stormers job in Super Rugby.
But whenever his run in Cape Town, or any future challenge, comes to an end, Jones is leaving the door open for a return to Japan.
“I’d always consider coming back,” Jones said in an exclusive interview with the Rugby News Service. “Japan rugby has been a big part of my life. I’ve got a mother who’s Japanese, a wife who’s Japanese. I’ve had a strong association with a number of teams in Japan. Coaching Japan has been one of the most enjoyable periods of my career, full stop.
“So I’d always consider coming back. But I want to do a few different things. I’ve always wanted to coach in South Africa, I’d love to coach in France if the opportunity came. Those are the things I want to do.”
The French way
Jones, 55, whose deal with the Stormers is believed to be for three years, did not rule out a return in time for RWC 2019 which Japan will host, "if I thought I could make a difference and help them (Japan) win”, but said a lot would have to change in Japanese rugby for that to happen.
“I’ve coached in England and I’ve got no desire to come back. France, to me, is one of those countries where foreign coaches haven’t done well. They’re probably a bit like Japan, a little insular. They only want to do things the French way so that’s pretty exciting to me, to go there and change that.
“I’m at a stage in my career where I only want to do projects that excite me. That’s the reality and I want to win. I only want to coach somewhere I think I can make a difference. I’ve had four years with Japan where I like to think I made a difference.”
Jones has enhanced his reputation in England as one of the game’s top brains after leading Japan to wins over South African and Samoa, giving the Brave Blossoms a shot at qualifying for their first RWC quarter-finals.
For this competition, Jones set two goals for Japan: reach the last eight, and become the team of the tournament. He is on the brink of achieving the former and with Japan having become everyone’s second favourite team, it is safe to say he has accomplished the latter.
Set the tone
According to Jones, victory over the Springboks in Brighton, Japan’s first win at a RWC in 24 years, set the tone for their campaign, exactly the boost it needed before hosting the event in four years’ time.
“Our biggest game was always going to be South Africa because that’s where we were going to get the credibility from. Because I’ve been with top teams at the World Cup I understand how they think. South Africa are a semi-final team at worst so you’re looking to peak in the middle of October, not early September.
“If you can catch those teams early and make them think, you give yourself a chance to win the game. And that’s all I set out to do, put ourselves in a position to win the game, and as it turns out we were good enough to do it.
“To think 25 million people in Japan watched a rugby game (Samoa v Japan), that’s unheard of because rugby is not a major sport. You can understand that in a major rugby country but in a country where it’s not a major sport, it’s created some movement.”
But now comes the hard part, he says. As impressive as Japan have been at RWC 2015, they cannot expect to better or match this in 2019 given the current Japanese rugby climate which, according to Jones, is simply not producing enough quality. The current group of players is “unique”, the “most talented Japan will ever have – or for a long time”.
“If Japan wants to improve on where it is now, it’s not going to improve by doing what it’s doing now which is why I decided to go,” he said. “Because if you think Japan can make the semi-finals in 2019 doing what it’s doing now, you are crazy because it’s not going to happen.
“Now realistically, where do we sit? Realistically we probably sit ninth, 10th, 11th in the world but to get into the top eight is a big jump. To go even from seventh to sixth is massive because then you’re looking at a team that can beat the likes of Wales on a regular basis, and Japan haven’t got the talent to do that.
"How many 6ft 6in (1.98m) locks are there in Japan that are really tough? None. So while all this is promising, there has to be a realism that if Japan wants to get better, things have to change.”
If Jones’s Japan do make it to the quarter-finals, a potential mouth-watering clash against his old team the Wallabies awaits them at Twickenham on 18 October.
“If it happens it will be great fun. It will just be fun,” Jones said. “We’ll have nothing to lose. If we do get there we won’t die wondering. We’ll give it a twirl. Every ball will be hittable. That’s how we got to do it. They’re one of the best teams in the world, but who knows what can happen on any day.”