Hardly anyone on this side of the equator had heard of him until he began sounding off about the Lions during the second week of their Australian tour in 2001.
Eddie Jones, an ambitious young coach on the eve of his first international assignment, made himself heard with what would become part of his modus operandi, the trademark rant designed to distract and disparage. He had started as he meant to go on.
In the course of winning their first three matches by a cumulative score of 241-24, the Lions had rattled the Wallabies’ chain of coaching command with the three-Test series looming ever closer.
Jones, then the junior member, spoke out after Queensland had been routed 42-8, banging on about an illegal scrum and gratuitous violence.
It was, as Jones would concede years later, part of an orchestrated campaign just before the Lions made the 50-mile journey north from Sydney to Gosford, a coastal town renowned as home to Australia’s Reptile Park. The Wallabies’ second string were waiting to ambush the best of British and Irish under Jones’ direction.
“He accused us of illegal play,” Lions captain Martin Johnson said.
“He moaned: ‘There were a number of off-the-ball incidents against Queensland that were disappointing. I hope the officials at Gosford keep a strict eye on this and take the appropriate action.’ “
Against the odds, Australia’s reserves won a famous victory which had nothing to do with any officious refereeing and everything to do with the Lions playing like a bunch of old tomcats. Jones was on his way.
He had been coaching for seven years, starting at Randwick in his native eastern suburbs of Sydney before taking the new Mrs Jones, Hiroko, home to Japan where he embarked on a three-year coaching apprenticeship which included a supporting role with the national team.
The Gosford success changed his life, more so than all his domestic success with the Canberra-based Brumbies. With the World Cup-winning Rod Macqueen stepping down after the Lions series, Jones would succeed him as head coach of the Wallabies.
Eighteen years later, an often tortuous journey ought to end with another Aussie presiding over another English World Cup.
Barely three months after winning the cricket version under Trevor Bayliss’ direction and the revolutionary captaincy of an Irishman, Eoin Morgan, Jones will preside over the final act of the attempted double in Yokohama tomorrow morning.
He arrived not by accident but as the result of one. English failure to reach the last eight of their own World Cup four years ago and Japan’s giant-killing of the Springboks under Jones swept him into Twickenham on a tidal wave of popular opinion.
The expectant Red Rose reunion with the global pot of gold will catapult the architect-in-chief into a class of his own.
If it comes to pass, he will have won two finals with different countries having been in the Springboks’ coaching corner for the last Anglo-South African final in Paris 12 years ago, a duel as dull as ditchwater. Jones has been accused of being many things to many people but never dull.
A man whose work ethic tends to make the average Trojan look almost lazy, he can be amusing, mischievous, outrageous, grumpy, and offensive. Above all, Jones is smart, smart enough to sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to winning big Test matches. Only last week he out-smarted his All Blacks’ counterpart, Steve Hansen and nobody had done that at a World Cup before.
Jones has paid his dues, not least in knowing how it feels to lose a World Cup final. The irony of having done so to the dreaded ‘Poms’ in Sydney halfway through his four-year stint as Wallaby-in-chief, and then winning it, for England, will not be lost on Jones.
The son of an Australian soldier who served in the Vietnam War and a Japanese- American mother who was interned in the US after Pearl Harbour, Jones may look different but he has always been, and still is, a fair dinkum Aussie.
At the age of ten, he was there on The Hill at the Sydney Cricket Ground when England under Ray Illingworth took the unprecedented action of seeking refuge in the pavilion from a volley of missiles hurled by fans after an Australian batsman had been hit on the head by a bouncer from fast bowler John Snow.
A lifelong cricket ‘tragic’ to use the Australian vernacular, he is prone to dead-bat questions suspected of deviating in direction with a stock answer: ‘’Mate, I’ll let that one go through to the keeper.’’ It is astonishing to think that barely 18 months ago England were being stumped all over the place with embarrassing frequency, a five-match losing streak to Scotland, France, Ireland, and South Africa (twice) raising pointed questions as to why the RFU was paying Jones a reputed £750,000-a-year.
Amid external fears that his regime had become too intense for its own good and that the head honcho had taken control-freakery to unchartered depths, Jones changed the personnel. Of the starting team that failed to stop Ireland completing the Grand Slam at Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day last year, only three will line up tomorrow in the same position — Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje.
In all the years since he swopped school teaching for rugby coaching, the England crisis amounted to the ultimate test of character in transforming a team that had finished second from bottom of last year’s Six Nations. Throughout the tumult, Jones never lost sight of his raison d’etre, to win the World Cup. He ignored the tumult, hired a proven Test coach in New Zealander John Mitchell to plug the defensive leaks and turned a laughing stock into a team so good, that last week they outplayed and outclassed the All Blacks like they had never been outplayed or outclassed at any World Cup.
Along the way, he has been smart enough to weld pieces from other sports into the England armoury, not least through his friendship with Alex Ferguson and other football managers.
“I’ve been to women’s hockey, the Tour de France, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Southampton,” he says.
"There’s always people out there who know more than you do.”
In that respect, he has recently tapped into the expertise of two Kangaroo greats from Australian Rugby League, Andrew Johns and Ricky Stuart. The RFU has spared no expense in giving Jones whatever he wanted in return for the World Cup.
Had England lost to Australia in the quarter-final, Jones would have been a goner.
Public opinion would have seen to that but one more win will ensure a new contract with the avowed aim of doing it all over again in France in four years’ time.
By then ‘Fast Eddie’, the kid from a blue-collar corner of Sydney, will probably have been turned into Sir Edward.
On the Irish and the Welsh:
“We’ve played 23 Tests and we’ve only lost one, to the scummy Irish. Who knows Wales? Are there any Welsh people here? So it’s this little shit place that’s got three million people.’”
On coaching the Lions:
“It’s an ambassador job. The last thing I want to do is spend eight weeks in a blazer. I’m a coach. I’d rather coach the Queensland Sheffield Shield (cricket) team.”
On being sacked by Australia in 2007:
“The big thing I learnt from the Wallabies was that I’d never work for people I didn’t trust anymore.”
England flanker James Haskell on Jones’ coaching style:
“The man never sleeps. His work ethic is unparalleled. Players would receive text messages at four or five in the morning.
"I’d see them when I was going for a pee in the middle of the night. Sometimes they’d be funny and sometimes it would just be: ‘Mate, you’re looking slow.’ “
Fourie du Preez, former Springbok World Cup winner:
“People think he is this egotistical man but he learns and asks questions.
"He’s an unbelievably deep guy but is genuine, the best coach in the world."