‘A little bit weird’: England cross paths with Eddie Jones in Japan Test – Football News

‘A little bit weird’: England cross paths with Eddie Jones in Japan Test

As Eddie Jones surveyed the 40-odd reporters and six camera crews crammed into a windowless room on the fifth floor of a Tokyo tower block it almost felt like the old days. The last time he was in charge of a Test side in this city it was the 2019 Rugby World Cup final and he was coaching England. Five years on, however, it is not just the badge on his chest that has changed.

For a start, he has left two high-profile jobs and been re-hired by the Japan Rugby Football Union for a second stint in charge of the Brave Blossoms. And now gazing impassively across at him from the England camp is his former assistant Steve Borthwick, with whom he has worked on and off since 2008 when they were both working for Saracens. The past master is about to be reunited with a former apprentice who knows him inside out.

Maybe that is the reason why Jones opted to thrust out a big front pad to even the most innocent of pre-match questions from the crowded floor. “I know whatever I say to you is going to end up in a headline,” he told the small travelling posse of UK-based writers at the back of the room. Perhaps but, let’s be honest, Jones is not entirely allergic to courting publicity when it suits him. Closer to the truth, potentially, is that his latest callow crop of Brave Blossoms, featuring four debutants, could feel the force of Borthwick’s revitalised England team at the National Stadium on Saturday.

Admittedly it will be baking hot, with temperatures of 30C likely for the mid-afternoon kick-off and England set to use iced towels and cold spray to keep cool. Japan will also be mustard keen, not least their novice 20-year-old full-back Yoshitaka Yazaki who is still at Waseda University and shares a dormitory with 150 other students. But as the visitors’ captain, Jamie George, made clear at his team’s waterfront hotel a few miles across town this is an England team which increasingly senses real progress is now being made under Borthwick’s stewardship.

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Regan Grace earns shock Wales call-up


Regan Grace has been described as an ‘X-factor’ player following his shock call-up to Wales’ summer training squad. Former rugby league star Grace [pictured], who has only played two senior games of union, could now travel to Australia for a tour highlighted by Tests against the Wallabies on 6 and 13 July.

Wales head coach Warren Gatland will finalise his travelling group after Saturday’s Twickenham clash against South Africa. He is expected to cut the current training squad by five or six players, but Grace is firmly in contention after Ospreys wing Keelan Giles was released because of a groin injury.

Grace, who signed a contract with Bath in April, would not have been eligible for the Springboks encounter as it falls outside World Rugby’s summer Test window and Wales’ England-based players cannot be considered for selection. The 27-year-old scored 89 tries for St Helens and won three Super League titles.

‘We have lost a few in the back three and he has got speed. He has got that X-factor,’ Wales assistant coach Jonathan Humphreys said. ‘It is great to get him in the environment and get to know him a bit better. You can’t buy what he has got and we are excited to have him here … he can make things happen.’ PA Media

Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

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While George did concede it might feel “a little bit weird” with Jones in the opposing coach’s box – “We’ve just got to make sure we look at the right one” – he also suggested Borthwick had been privy to enough of Jones’s tactical wisdom over the years to make the battle of wits a competitive one. “You could see Steve was a head coach from the outset,” stressed George, who knows both men well from his own lengthy spell at Saracens.

“It was something he was destined to do. He has a plan for every individual but also the way he drives standards in terms of how he wants the team to look has impressed me a huge amount. He is also very good at setting the tone for the week and being very clear about the gameplan: having a great understanding of your opposition but also how we want to manipulate them. Everything we do is about getting better and that breeds confidence.”

It is certainly true that several English players either jettisoned or put through the wringer by Jones have resurfaced as better, more influential players under Borthwick, ranging from George Furbank and Ollie Lawrence to Ben Earl and George Martin. Tough love can occasionally improve young players but the big difference is that England are now transparently enjoying the more collegiate, positive atmosphere, allied to a more attack-minded gameplan being fostered by Borthwick and his squad leaders.

Jamie George said facing Eddie Jones would be ‘a bit weird.’ Photograph: Patrick Khachfe/Getty Images

George, who has had to deal with the death of his mother earlier this year and has been hammering away without much respite since last summer’s World Cup warm-up games, is among those firmly convinced the team is on the rise. “I am genuinely so excited about the group we have here. I believe this team is going to go on and do great things. These three Tests – one here and two in New Zealand – are an amazing opportunity to show the growth of this team.”

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The captain is particularly keen for his squad to build on the attacking momentum they generated in their final two Six Nations fixtures against Ireland and France, although there are one or two obvious wrinkles still to be ironed out. England trailed at half-time in all five of their recent Six Nations games and, with the All Blacks on the horizon, George is urging his side to stay mentally switched on against opponents who have never previously toppled England.

“They haven’t played a game for a little while and, this being Eddie’s first game, he will do everything he can to get them in the right emotional state to come out swinging,” warned the hooker. “We will be set challenges through this entire tour, whether it be the heat or going down to New Zealand and playing at Eden Park with their record there. This could bring us more together … and hopefully we’ll also get a few results to show for it.”

Jones, though, says he has “a really good feeling in his veins” and, with the great Victor Matfield now among his coaching lieutenants, believes Japan “will take England right to the last moment”. If they do finish second, Borthwick and England will never hear the last of it.

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