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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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Leader: Trump's dangerous nation

From North Korea to Virginia, the US increasingly resembles a rogue state.

When Donald Trump was elected as US president, some optimistically suggested that the White House would have a civilising effect on the erratic tycoon. Under the influence of his more experienced colleagues, they argued, he would gradually absorb the norms of international diplomacy.

After seven months, these hopes have been exposed as delusional. On 8 August, he responded to North Korea’s increasing nuclear capabilities by threatening “fire and fury like the world has never seen”. Three days later, he casually floated possible military action against Venezuela. Finally, on 12 August, he responded to a white supremacist rally in Virginia by condemning violence on “many sides” (only criticising the far right specifically after two days of outrage).

Even by Mr Trump’s low standards, it was an embarrassing week. Rather than normalising the president, elected office has merely inflated his self-regard. The consequences for the US and the world could be momentous.

North Korea’s reported acquisition of a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an intercontinental missile (and potentially reach the US) demanded a serious response. Mr Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric was not it. His off-the-cuff remarks implied that the US could launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, leading various officials to “clarify” the US position. Kim Jong-un’s regime is rational enough to avoid a pre-emptive strike that would invite a devastating retaliation. However, there remains a risk that it misreads Mr Trump’s intentions and rushes to action.

Although the US should uphold the principle of nuclear deterrence, it must also, in good faith, pursue a diplomatic solution. The week before Mr Trump’s remarks, the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, rightly ruled out “regime change” and held out the possibility of “a dialogue”.

The North Korean regime is typically depicted as crazed, but its pursuit of nuclear weapons rests on rational foundations. The project is designed to guarantee its survival and to strengthen its bargaining hand. As such, it must be given incentives to pursue a different path.

Mr Trump’s bellicose language overshadowed the successful agreement of new UN sanctions against North Korea (targeting a third of its $3bn exports). Should these prove insufficient, the US should resume the six-party talks of the mid-2000s and even consider direct negotiations.

A failure of diplomacy could be fatal. In his recent book Destined for War, the Harvard historian Graham Allison warns that the US and China could fall prey to “Thucydides’s trap”. According to this rule, dating from the clash between Athens and Sparta, war typically results when a dominant power is challenged by an ascendent rival. North Korea, Mr Bew writes, could provide the spark for a new “great power conflict” between the US and China.

Nuclear standoffs require immense patience, resourcefulness and tact – all qualities in which Mr Trump is lacking. Though the thought likely never passed his mind, his threats to North Korea and Venezuela provide those countries with a new justification for internal repression.

Under Mr Trump’s leadership, the US is becoming an ever more fraught, polarised nation. It was no accident that the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, culminating in the death of the 32-year-old Heather Heyer, took place under his presidency. Mr Trump’s victory empowered every racist, misogynist and bigot in the land. It was doubtless this intimate connection that prevented him from immediately condemning the white supremacists. To denounce them is, in effect, to denounce himself.

The US hardly has an unblemished history. It has been guilty of reckless, immoral interventions in Vietnam, Latin America and Iraq. But never has it been led by a man so heedless of international and domestic norms. Those Republicans who enabled Mr Trump’s rise and preserve him in office must do so no longer. There is a heightened responsibility, too, on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, the president. The Brexiteers have allowed dreams of a future US-UK trade deal to impair their morality.

Under Mr Trump, the US increasingly resembles a breed it once denounced: a rogue state. His former rival Hillary Clinton’s past warning that “a man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons” now appears alarmingly prescient.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear