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The art of the relationship: how rugby coach Eddie Jones is preparing England to take on the world

The world rankings still put them behind the All Blacks. But the gap is closing. And few would deny that Jones deserves much of the credit.

Less than 18 months ago, the England rugby team was in dreadful shape. It had just been thrashed by Australia at Twickenham, becoming the first host nation to be knocked out of the World Cup at the group stage. Stuart Lancaster, the coach, was sacked, and the search began for his successor.

Though England had never previously employed a foreign coach, the Rugby Football Union was drawn to the Australian who had masterminded the most spectacular performance in the 2015 tournament: the victory by Japan’s “Brave Blossoms” over the mighty South Africa.

It was a risky hire. Eddie Jones, whose management philosophy earned him an advisory role at the investment bank Goldman Sachs, had tasted success but also failure in his two-decade coaching career. Small, mischievous and fiercely demanding – his nickname among the Japanese team was “the Devil” – he was known for driving some players to great heights and others to tears.

Noting that Jones, like Lancaster, had once been a teacher, David Campese, one of Australia’s best ever players, described the appointment as “desperate”. “Rugby is a professional sport and we don’t need schoolteachers,” he said.

Fortunately for England, Campese was wrong. Beating Scotland 61-21 at Twickenham on 11 March, Eddie Jones’s team retained the Six Nations title. It also equalled New Zealand’s world record for successive wins by a major Test-playing nation. Victory over Ireland on Saturday would extend England’s streak to 19 matches.

The world rankings still put them behind the All Blacks. But the gap is closing. And few would deny that Eddie Jones, at 57, deserves much of the credit. Born to an Australian father and a Japanese-American mother who was interned in a US camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Jones grew up in the rough Sydney suburb of Chifley. He channelled his aggression into cricket, in which he was known for his foul mouth, and then rugby. Though only 12.5 stone, he excelled as a hooker, turning out for Randwick, one of Australia’s strongest clubs.

When he realised that he would never achieve his dream of representing Australia, he completed an education degree and taught at a private school in Sydney, where he met his Japanese wife, Hiroko. He loved the job, and today he says that it was the ideal preparation for coaching professional sport at the highest level.

“You’re reading people,” Jones told the Financial Times last year. “Messaging every one of them differently. Some need their heads massaging. Some need a cup of coffee. With England now, that’s what we have to do. There’s a science to the plan. Then there is the art. The art is all about relationships.”

In 1994, Jones left teaching to coach full-time. His first big success came in 2001 with the ACT Brumbies, when they won the southern hemisphere’s Super 12 competition. Soon after that, he was appointed Australia coach, leading the team to the World Cup final on home soil in 2003, in which they narrowly lost to Clive Woodward’s England.

More disappointment followed. In 2005, after a disastrous run of results, Jones was sacked. His stock fell further at the Queensland Reds, which finished at the bottom of the Super 14 table in 2007 before he resigned.

Redemption was swift. That same year, amid howls of protest in Australia, he worked as a technical adviser to the South African team that won the World Cup. After a brief coaching stint at the English team Saracens, Jones worked in club rugby in Japan and in 2012 was appointed national coach.

As in his previous roles, the players saw the two sides of Jones. The first was the caring principal who remembered their birthdays, learned the names of their partners and children and treated them as individuals. The other persona was the fierce PE master who seldom seemed satisfied with his team’s performance.

The Japanese players had to make up for their small size with superior conditioning, and so Jones held as many as four training sessions per day, starting at 5am. His criticism was so cutting that some players reportedly hid behind furniture to avoid being seen. But when Japan beat the Springboks, Jones’s methods were vindicated – as they have been with England.

He says that his ambition is to get better every day “as a coach, as a father, as a husband”, and he demands the same from the English players. Without significantly changing the squad he inherited from Lancaster, he has transformed a group of individuals lacking confidence into world-beaters.

Derek Wyatt, the former Labour MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey who played rugby for England, noted last year that Jones had the rare ability to “look inside a player’s soul and tell them what they are thinking, how they can improve their skills and what they can possibly achieve”.

The true test will come when England play the All Blacks. Unfortunately for fans (and undoubtedly to Jones’s frustration), they will have to wait until the end of 2018. If all goes to plan, Jones will then lead England to the World Cup the following year – in Japan.

Xan Rice is Features Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit and the break-up of Britain

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A year in my life as a Brexit bargaining chip

After Brexit, like many other EU citizens in Britain, I spent a year not knowing what my future held. Here's what that was like.

I moved back to the UK in January 2016. I like to say “move back”, because that’s how it feels – I loved living in London so much during my Erasmus year that I always intended to come work here after graduation. 

I am French, and a journalist, and live in north London. I refer to the UK as “home”. By all appearances, in January 2016 I am part of what budding Brexiteers call the “liberal elite”, even though I rent a single room and my most expensive possession after my laptop is a teapot.

But by June, I have been given a new label. I am now one of the 3 million “EU citizens in the UK”. As Britain heads toward turbulent negotiations to leave the European Union, following a referendum in which I did not have a vote, I have become a “bargaining chip”. 

This is my account of that year.

April 2016

Moving back includes chores such as getting a UK phone number, a National Insurance number and opening a bank account – three tasks that go even smoother that I thought they would. For the bank account, I have been advised to go to Lloyds Bank, which makes it “easy for Europeans”. (A thread on Twitter recently proved it also is more inclined to help refugees than other banks.)

I also eagerly register to vote – another right of mine in the UK under EU rules, for local and European elections. And I am excited: I will have a vote in the London mayoral election.

I closely follow the referendum campaign. “Vote Remain” signs and stickers are omnipresent in my  neighbourhood.  I feel reassured. So do the other EU nationals quietly passing me in the street. “I don't recall seeing any Leave Campaign. It made me think it would be an easy win,” echoes Tiago Gomes, 27, a Portuguese musician.

In the pub, I get into a testy exchange with an acquaintance who holds French and British passports and is proudly campaigning for Leave. I struggle to understand why. Maybe, just like Ukip leader Nigel Farage, he knows he has a way out, if it all goes to shit.

Worried that people could wrongly see me as a Brexiteer because of my Union Jack Converses, I put a “I’m IN” sticker on each roundel.

May 2016

I vote in the London mayoral election. I have voted many times in France, but this is different – I am almost a Brit! I even take a happy selfie with my polling card, like a proud 18 year-old.

This turns out to be the only UK election I will ever have a vote in, as a friend will note a few months later.

June 2016

Jo Cox MP is murdered on the streets of her constituency. I report on the murder all afternoon and when I get the tube home, I feel shaken. A Leave supporter enters the tube carriage with an England flag. I want to ask him: "Do you even know what happened?" But I say nothing.

The violent turn taken by the campaign is felt in London, too. Samir Dwesar, a 27-year-old parliamentary assistant, remembers the abuse he suffered while campaigning for Remain: “I was called a p**i, and told to go back to ‘your f’ing country'.” Samir is British and has lived all his life in Croydon, South London.

Yet I am hopeful on 23 June 2016. I blow up “I’m IN” balloons, taste EU referendum cupcakes from my local bakery. I’m living history.

And it is history. I doubt anyone in Britain, and especially the country’s EU citizens, will forget the nightmarish morning of 24 June 2016. My heart sinks as I read the BBC news alert informing me I am no longer home – not really. On my wall, a poster of the Private Eye cover “What Britain will look like after Brexit”, which I found hilarious in April, looks like a doomed omen.

The mood is low among all Europeans. For Nassia Matsa, 27, a Greek woman from Athens who has lived in London for 9 years, it is even worse: 24 June marks her birthday. “Nigel and Boris ruined my birthday,” she says.

At least in London we are not alone. I discover many Brits identify as European. When I finally leave my house, my neighbourhood is still plastered IN signs and EU flags. “I found myself offering support to my British friends,” says Matsa. “Were talking about Brexit with an Italian, Swiss, Croatian, French and me, and all of us Europeans were comforting a Londoner who was ready to cry.”

July-August 2016

I go to France for a summer holiday. Everyone keeps asking what my situation will be in the UK after Brexit. My answer is always the same, and still hasn’t changed: I have no idea. My dad spends months repeating that Brexit will not happen: “They’ll realise it’s a mistake.” (They don’t.)

Bad adverts with Brexit puns bloom on the Tube. "We're Out," proclaims one for a city lifestyle app. I don’t laugh. But at least I don't have any Facebook friend boasting about Brexit. Mikael David Levin, a 24-year-old Italian who has lived in London for 16 years, does. "Their statuses frustrate and irritate me," he says. "They do not know how 'lucky' they are to be born in the UK."

After David Cameron’s resignation, the Tory leadership election and Theresa May’s premiership, the discussion focuses on when to pull the trigger, and what to do with people like us in the meantime. We are now, officially, bargaining chips.

September 2016

I start flying with my passport when I visit my family in France, even though I know my French ID is still valid until Britain officially leaves. At Stansted airport, the limited life expectancy of the “EU only” line makes me gloomy. Alex Roszkowski, a 27-year-old Polish-American who has lived in London for a year and a half, tells me he may now carry both his passports on every trip, as well as “copies of [his] lease, numerous old envelopes with [his] name and address, [his] business card".

Those EU citizens arriving in the UK have surreal experiences too. Joseph Sotinel, 28, who moved to London from Paris in September, encounters a bank official, who tells him: “Thanks for coming to the UK, you are still welcome no matter what.”

“It was as if I had done something heroic,” he says. “It was absurd.”

October 2016

Registering all EU citizens in the UK could take 140 years, according to a cheery statistic.

We are seeking an early deal to secure the rights of EU citizens, says the British government. Companies employing EU workers must provide a list of their employees, says the British government. Companies employing EU workers won’t have to provide a list of their employees, says the British government. EU citizens will need a “form of ID” in post-Brexit UK, says the British government.  EU citizens must be prepared to leave, says the British government.

Literally no one knows what will happen to EU citizens.

November- December 2016

EU nationals who have decided to apply to permanent residency or British citizenship start receiving letters urging them to leave the country. I fear mine could follow and think about it every time I get post. I read an article advising EU citizens to collect proof of living in the UK. As I am a lodger currently working freelance, I start keeping every single one of my shopping receipts in a box, and consider asking British friends for reference letters.

Matt Bock [unrelated to this journalist], a German freelance renewable energy project manager, worries about how to provide documentation showing he was living in the UK before Brexit too: “I don’t have an employer, I am outside the UK for a large amount of time for work, I am a freelancer largely paid by my own German company, I don’t have private health insurance, I am not married and I haven’t even been here for the prerequisite 5 years.”" He has chosen not to apply to right to remain because his chances of success are "remote", and says he is "ready to leave if need be."

As I, like Matt and many EU citizens, start thinking about moving back home, others rush to move to the UK. Alexandra Ibrová, 26, a Czech PhD student, moves to London on 28 December, worried she could not get a National Insurance number after 15 March. “I was trying to get the appointment before that date because it is actually the only official document that proves that you have been living here before the cut off date,” she says.

January- February 2017

Gina Miller’s legal challenge forces the government’s Brexit bill to go to a vote in Parliament. I am hopeful, for about five minutes, that the Labour MP Harriet Harman’s amendment to secure my rights has got a chance. It doesn’t. I complain about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s three-line whip to my local Labour councillors during their Sunday canvassing. “As a traditionally left-wing voter, I'm more angry with Corbyn's Labour than with the Tories,” echoes Marta Maria Casetti, 39, from Italy, in London since 2006.

March 2017

The day before the triggering or Article 50, the Haringey LibDems send me a letter in “support” of EU nationals. I am now a bargaining chip and a stat on a micro-targeting list.

On 29 March, Theresa May officially begins the Brexit negotiations, even though 2017 is the worst possible time to leave the EU. It has almost been a year that 3 million people living in the UK have been left in limbo.

I don’t own a house or have children at school in the UK. Many EU citizens do – they have built their family life in this country, and now fear they may lose it all overnight.

Adriana Bruni, 44, an Italian who married an Englishman and has lived in Chelmsford for six years, says her family would not exist without the European Union: “From today [29 March], a family like mine will never be formed in the same way again.” Bianca Ford Epskamp, a Dutch national and school governor who has lived Dorset since 2001, adds: “Both my children are born here, go to school here, have made friends. I've always been employed, contributed, paid taxes, do voluntary things. Morally, it’s draining.”

Elena Paolini, 51, an Italian translator married to Brit who has lived in London for 27 years, says she doesn’t believe EU nationals will be deported, but she is concerned about her access to the NHS, pensions or bank accounts. She asks out loud the question that has been floating in all our minds for months: “Will I be considered a second rate citizen?”

As for me, I used to say I wanted to be British. I don't say that any more.

Update on 23 June 2017

Last night, Theresa May told EU leaders in Brussels the UK government would offer the same rights as Britons to EU citizens who arrived "lawfully" before Brexit. I can't help but think that it took a year to guarantee rights me, and the other 3 million, already had and took for granted up until 23 June last year.

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