Peter FitzSimons, who played for the Wallabies in the 1980s and 90s before becoming one of Australia’s most popular media commentators, says, “Eddie is broadly well liked and respected but is also what we call in the Australian argot ‘a cranky b*****d’ and maybe the most intense of the breed that ever lived.
“The stories of just how obsessive he is – to work his assistant coaches into the ground, to ensure they work the team into the ground, to get every last detail right – are numerous.
“He was a great player for Randwick in the 1980s, and extremely unlucky not to have been a Wallaby hooker. What he lacked in size, he made up for in activity. He was like a feral sheepdog with just a touch of rabies. Every time you looked up, there was Eddie, barking at his own side to herd them into exactly the right position, or snarling at you. Then, once the game was over, his eyeballs would stop rolling, and he would be a good bloke once more.
“He is much the same as a coach: insanely focused, and entirely unforgiving of those who can’t match his level of obsessiveness. The attrition rate on assistant coaches who can’t keep up tends to be high, just as players who don’t measure up to his standards are quickly measured up for the international rugby graveyard. But, at base, still a good bloke. Just a bit odd. I suspect he will go well for England.”
Jones says he’d mellowed. “When I was younger, I was terrible at tolerating people who didn’t have the same enthusiasm and drive to win. I’m a bit better now. As you get older you learn which fights to fight. I couldn’t do this job in my 40s. You get wiser as you get older.”
He also had a health scare, spending more than a month in intensive care in October 2013, after suffering a stroke. “I had to change the way I was operating, I was pushing too hard,” he said afterwards. “It made me realise what I wanted to do – coach and look after my family. I don’t drink now, I eat healthy food, regulate my sleep pattern and don’t have saunas.”
Jones is still learning. “I talk to a lot of people,” he says. “I try to meet people who are smarter than me.” One of those, he says, was Pep Guardiola. He contacted Bayern Munich in 2014 and visited in November of that year.
“It was absolutely fascinating. I watched Pep taking a training session and it made me embarrassed by my coaching. He was so bloody brilliant. He has some of the best players in the world and he just worked them so hard. It was minus three degrees and they came off the field dripping with sweat, they had worked that hard.”
With England having dropped to eighth, their lowest ever point in the world rankings, Jones’s squad can expect more of the same. “Perhaps it needs an Australian to remind us what English rugby is all about,” says Woodward.