Rassie Erasmus is a super rugby strategist. To bring in sacked England coach Eddie Jones as a Springboks hired gun for the 2023 World Cup in France would be the work of coaching genius, writes Mark Keohane.
When the Springboks crushed England at Twickenham, Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber claimed their biggest victory in the build up to the 2023 World Cup – the sacking of Eddie Jones. As absurd as it may read, Jones, like he was at the 2007 Boks World Cup triumph, could find himself helping the Boks to win it again.
Jake White and Eddie Jones were rivals when White coached the Boks and Jones the Wallabies. Jones often mocked White in press conferences, calling him nothing more than ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’.
Somehow, when the Wallabies sacked Jones, the Reds sacked Jones and Saracens sacked Jones, White rejuvenated the career of Jones, who was in charge of the Reds when they lost 92-3 at Loftus to Heyneke Meyer’s Super Rugby title-winning Bulls.
Jones, as every Bok from World Cup-winning 2007 squad will tell you was hugely influential in the Boks beating England in the final. Every Bok I spoke to said he was the differentiator in a squad, who the previous year has lost five Tests in succession, including 49-0 to Australian in Brisbane.
In 2019 Jones, as England coach, was on the receiving end of the Boks in the World Cup final. Rassie Erasmus did a number on Jones and pummelled him. Jones, in between 2007 and 2019, had inspired Japan to a dramatic last minute Pool Group win against the Springboks.
Jones has a fierce rivalry with the Boks, but he also has a great affection for the Boks and South African rugby.
Jones was confident he could turn the 2019 World Cup final defeat into a 2023 England World Cup final win, but after winning just five of 12 Tests in 2022, he was sacked. The 2003 England World Cup-winning coach Clive Woodward was the fiercest critic of Jones, calling for his sacking. Woodward and Jones had never shared much in rugby, let alone a lunch.
Jones ends his England coaching career with a 75 percent win record, a silver World Cup medal, 59 victories, three Six Nations titles, including a Grand Slam in 2016, two series wins against the Wallabies in Australia and an Autumn Nations Cup title. There was also the glorious 2019 World Cup semi-final win against the All Blacks and a world record equalling (with the All Blacks) 18 Tests wins in succession. Woodward also ended his England career with 59 Test wins, a 71 percent win record and a World Cup gold medal, courtesy of Jonny Wilkinson’s 99th minute extra time drop goal against Jones’s Wallabies.
White was never a fan of Jones and events post the 2007 World Cup between the two has led to the breakdown of any form of relationship, professionally or as friends.
I doubt there is much love from Rassie and Jacques towards Eddie but, taking all emotion out of the equation, Jones, in a consulting capacity could give incredible insights to Erasmus and Nienaber, having coached against them for the past five years and having been involved with England for the past seven years.
Jones has been linked to an eight year deal with the USA Eagles, to prepare them for the hosting of 2031 World Cup. He has also been touted as Director of Rugby for the Australian Rugby Union.
Whatever the role, the 62 year old will be in demand at club or International level.
It would be poetic if among those ‘consulting’ roles Jones contributed to another Springboks World Cup gold in 2023, back in Paris, France, where he did it with White and captain John Smit in 2007.
Stranger things have happened and what life has always taught me is to never say never.
Former England international Steve Borthwick, current coach of Leicester, is the favourite to replace Jones and Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson is also being touted as an option as the NZRU continued to overlook his All Blacks coaching ambitions, despite winning six successive Super Rugby titles.
Ronan O’Gara, among the finest No 10s in his playing days, coached La Rochelle to European glory against Ireland’s Leinster. He recently confirmed he would re-sign with La Rochelle and was not a consideration for the England job.
Also read: Eddie sacked by England
My personal choice of the England job would be Razor Robertson, if England are to cut it and win a second World Cup title after their 2003 success.
The reality is, no new coach outside of Robertson will be able to do a better job in such a short space of time. Robertson, who has won six successive Super Rugby titles and recorded an 85% win ratio with the Crusaders between 2017 to 2022, should have been the next All Black coach. New Zealand Rugby botched that decision, and if Robertson is hired by England with the long term plan to take them through to the 2027 World Cup – and not the pressure to immediately win the 2023 tournament – he may very well be able to pull a Rassie Erasmus and capitalise on the element of the unknown for 12 months and give England a shot at the 2023 World Cup title.
When I speak of Nienaber and Erasmus’ victory being bigger than the 27-13 result in late November, I speak of England’s potential loss in letting go of Jones, should they fail to appoint Robertson. A loss that could easily be turned into a Springbok gain if egos are laid to rest for the next 12 months.
A lot can happen in a year and given the strategist that Rassie Erasmus is, and Eddie’s history with the Springboks – where he helped Jake White’s Boks to World Cup glory in 2007 as technical assistant – it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Eddie is wearing green again in Paris, 16 years later.
Jones ends his stay with a 75% win record, more than any other England coach. During his reign, the Roses reached the 2019 World Cup final and won three Six Nations titles, including a Grand Slam in 2016.
Rassie and Jacques would mock me and find this article amusing, but White would also have mocked me back in the day if I asked him if he would have considered Jones as part of his Bok plans to win the 2007 World Cup.
A week is a long time in rugby; 12 months is a lifetime.
Never say Never.