TOKYO, 28 Oct - Head coach Eddie Jones has challenged his England players to improve on their outstanding performance against New Zealand when they face South Africa in the Rugby World Cup final on Saturday.
Given that his team delivered the most impressive 80 minutes of rugby since he took over four years ago, that would appear to be a tall order.
But the Australian wants more because he knows the pain, as well as the joy, that a World Cup final can deliver. In 2003 he watched his Australia team lose to England in extra-time, and then helped South Africa defeat England in the final four years later as a coaching consultant supporting Jake White, then the Springboks head coach.
Jones, 59, can bring all of that experience to the table as the England players start the biggest week of their rugby lives. He said: “We’re going to have to find another level and it’s definitely there.
"As I said, we had two-and-a-half years to prepare for the New Zealand game. The players weren’t consciously preparing for it, but subconsciously we were garnering a game to play against New Zealand. It’s a good performance but we’ve got to play better next week.
"We want to be the best in the world and we’re not. So, we’re not going to be satisfied until we’re the best.
"It’s a mindset, it’s the attitude of the players, the messaging the staff gives the players and the messaging the leadership gives the players. It’s about making sure no one gets too far ahead of themselves and this team has got no reason to, because we haven’t achieved what we want to achieve. All it’s done is give us another week in the competition.”
Jones highlighted the leadership in the semi-final provided by captain Owen Farrell, who was struggling with a heavy knock to his leg. That forced him to hand the goal-kicking duties to George Ford, who responded with another accomplished performance.
England Dominating turnovers proved the secret to avoiding a repeat of last year's test against New Zealand.#ENGvNZL #RWC2019 #WebbEllisCup— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 27, 2019
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Even after their monumental performance, the celebrations of Farrell and his team were subdued and they gathered in a huddle on the pitch for their captain to exhort them to even greater heights, pictured top.
Jones acknowledges that England have played to their current No.1 ranking by reaching the final, and now it is about delivering one more big performance to match the title-winning achievement of the 2003 England team.
Referring to his time in charge of Japan at RWC 2015, he said: “The crux game was playing South Africa. We had to win that game, then we would have a successful World Cup. For a team like England, who are a top-four ranked team, your crux game is going to be a semi-final. All the top teams prepare for the semi-final.
"A test match against New Zealand is like the start of Formula 1. You've got to be on your mark ready to go because if you're not you get left behind and you can never find your way back to the top of the pack.
"We had to come out of the blocks hard and establish some physical and mental ascendancy early, and that put us in a good position. You don't win the game there but it puts you in a good position.
"At the end it comes down to leadership on the field. You can create an environment at the start, but then it comes down to leadership on the field and I couldn’t be more effusive in my praise for the leadership of the team. They were outstanding, the way they kept driving the team forward.
"You would have needed a samurai sword to get him (Farrell) off. He wasn’t at his best but the way he managed the team... that second half becomes a leadership challenge and he got the boys focused, got us back on track and got us doing the simple things well. He understood where we could get an advantage and he did that brilliantly."
Jones, sitting in the stands alongside his defence coach John Mitchell for the second semi-final on Sunday, will have been looking at where his team can get an advantage over the Springboks, who narrowly edged out a valiant Wales side. He is sure to be grateful for England's one extra day of preparation for the final.
"Recovery’s so important, physical and mental," he said.