Eddie Jones has accepted that “boys will be boys” when it comes to England’s off-field behaviour at the World Cup but the head coach is not unduly worried that the sort of scandals that marred their last major overseas tournament will be repeated in Japan.
Eight years ago in New Zealand England’s campaign was mired in dwarf-throwing and ferry-dipping controversy but this time Jones is adopting a relaxed attitude towards his players and has urged them to enjoy their surroundings.
Jones does not impose a curfew when allowing his players time to enjoy themselves during camps but at the end of this year’s Six Nations, after the capitulation to Scotland, Billy Vunipola and Ben Te’o were forced to apologise to their teammates after they went out drinking until the small hours. Manu Tuilagi and Denny Solomona have also been disciplined by Jones when in camp for similar reasons and the former was among the chief offenders at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand. As well as Tuilagi’s ferry jump in Auckland a number of his teammates were disgraced after a night in Queenstown that included the infamous dwarf-throwing.
But while Jones’s players will be subjected to lessons on etiquette in Japan he does not intend to keep them under lock and key. “We’ve got certain values and behaviours that we want in the team,” he says. “We’re not going to be perfect but I want the boys to enjoy Japan. They are going to have to be conscious of the social behaviour that is allowed in Japan.
“In certain situations even being loud can get you into trouble, so we just need to be conscious of that, behave with good sense.
“I think it’s appropriate behaviour. I think we’ve got a fine bunch of boys. Sometimes boys will be boys and that’s a problem but I think they’re good characters, they’re aware of the responsibility they carry as members of an England side and I’ve got no problems with the way they conduct themselves. We’ll have a couple of lessons about what you should and should not do. Make sure you’ve got socks with no holes – you’ve always got to take off your shoes! Take toilet paper to the train station – all those sort of important things.”
In addition to etiquette lessons England will be given guidance on their use of social media during the tournament after Billy Vunipola received a formal warning from the Rugby Football Union for an Instagram post in which he came to the support of Israel Folau, who was facing widespread criticism for his declaration that “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” would go to hell unless they repented.
“I think that’s done and dusted now,” Jones says. “That was dealt with by his club and dealt with very well by the RFU, so Billy now when he comes in, he’s on England duty and we expect him to follow the values of the team, and I’m sure he will. We’ll have a chat about it. Our players have got a massive desire to win this World Cup. While social media can be a massive distraction, it can also be valuable because it reaches out to the fans.” I just saw Phil Neville [head coach of the England football team at the Women’s World Cup] make a nice thank you to the fans. That was great. There’s a negative part of social media but there’s also a very positive part.”
On Thursday Jones trimmed his World Cup training squad to 38 players, who will convene in Teddington on Sunday. Earlier in the week he sprang a surprise on the players in Cornwall: they were stripped of their mobile phones, taken to an RAF base and subjected to survival training, with the squad splitting into teams of six and having to build their own shelters in the forest for the night. After little sleep they were then put through a series of lifeguarding challenges in Newquay.
“The reports we got back from the forces who ran the day was that they were so impressed by the attitude of the players,” says Jones. “I think we’re a reasonably well-behaved team but there are times when people step out of line a little bit and all we’ve got to do is make sure we pull them back and put them back on course.
“We just wanted to do something a little bit different, to test them when they’re fatigued, see how they react, see how they relate to each other. [There were] some more shared experiences for them and have a bit of fun together.”