The expectation in South Africa is that Felix Jones will continue to work with the Springboks under the new coaching team. As for the man himself, he was tight-lipped on his future yesterday when asked what comes next after his World Cup experience.
Just a handful of months had passed since he rejected a new one-year contract with Munster when Rassie Erasmus, his old boss with the province, got on the blower and asked him to join the Bok coaching staff as a ‘consultant’ for the tournament in Japan.
Jones returned from the Far East with a winner’s medal and a greatly enhanced reputation, but he has been catching up on family time and digesting rugby from a detached distance since landing back in Ireland.
His next step, wherever and whenever it comes, will be taken with due care.
A report on Walesonline yesterday claimed he was a target for an Ospreys sidecurrently under the interim watch of Mike Ruddock. The suggestion was that he would be offered a defensive brief under Swys De Bruin, the man whose illness last year left the vacancy in Erasmus’s staff.
What’s clear is that he still has influential admirers in South Africa. Erasmus has left the head coach role behind to move upstairs full-time, but the appointment of Jacques Nienaber, who also spent time alongside Jones at Munster, is considered merely a matter of time.
“What happens now, I’m not sure,” Jones said of his Bok links. “I am not going into too much detail.”
He did speak at length about the challenge of coaching at Test level, the tiny margin of error that exists, and the need to whittle down information into as concise a package as possible for players.
Erasmus, Nienanaber, and others in the Springbok camp spoke effusively of his input throughout the tournament in Japan, including his ability to hit the ground running after being parachuted into the setup. The offer a longer stint with the world champions would be hard to ignore.
Jones has a young family to consider in all this, too. When asked about his reasons for moving on from Munster last summer, he addressed the need to seek a new challenge, and he is realistic about the demands that life as a coach will place on those closest to him.
“I think it’s inevitable as a coach that you’re going to have to move on at some stage,” he said. “I think there’s probably a few lucky ones who have managed to stay in one place, but I do think that, as a coach, that’s the way it’s going.
“The game is becoming so globalised now for coaches. It’s non-stop now. Previously it was always southern hemisphere coaches coming to the north, but now there’s a little bit more transition and obviously player movement as well.
“It’s the way it’s going, and you see more teams in the south now doing things that teams in the north are doing and vice-versa as playing styles become more mixed.”
His own decision to cross the equator and link up with the Boks caused a minor stir at the time. With Joe Schmidt, at least. The then-Ireland head coach labelled the move as “awkward” given the 32-year-old’s knowledge of the Irish system.
Ultimately, none of that mattered. Ireland’s loss to Japan changed their trajectory from a quarter-final against South Africa to one against New Zealand but, while the two men spoke prior to the tournament, this was an opportunity that was simply too good to turn down.
“Yeah, I spoke to Joe beforehand, and I spoke to him during and after. Myself and Joe have a very good relationship, and it’s very respectful, and he’s had a hugely encouraging role in my career. So yeah, look, when we spoke before, it was a bit weird ...
“It could have been a weird situation had Ireland played South Africa, but it didn’t come to it, but I think Joeappreciated the opportunity it was for me from a development point of view as a coach ... But we’ve a positive relationship.”
The rugby world is at his feet right now and he sounds like a man eager to explore as much of it as he can. There is an understanding that his education is still only starting and that the breadth and depth of knowledge still to be attained is considerable.
He has seen first-hand, at Munster and with South Africa, how pressurised the role of head coach is, but that’s not his target in the short-term. Jones has plenty of time to get where he is going, and any number of avenues that could take him there.