Regardless of what he sees out of his bedroom window this week, Eddie Jones is not one to believe in fairytales. England arrived at their Disneyland hotel on Monday, where they will spend the week preparing to face New Zealand in Saturday’s World Cup semi-final, with their head coach insisting it does not require magic to beat the All Blacks.
Rather, a fast start and sticking to the task are the key planks of Jones’s approach as England seek to inflict a first World Cup defeat on New Zealand for 12 years. He is not interested in Clive Woodward’s attempts to bust the myth that surrounds their opponents – he famously banned his players from referring to them as the All Blacks – and when Jones was asked last autumn about how he would feel if the Twickenham crowd sang Swing Low, Sweet Chariot to drown out the haka, he replied: “They could be playing the Spice Girls and I wouldn’t know, it’s got no relevance to me at all.”
Suffice to say Jones is not interested in all the bells and whistles that accompany England versus New Zealand matches, let alone their first World Cup meeting with the All Blacks in 20 years.
Jones lost his only match against New Zealand as England head coach but won five of his 11 when in charge of Australia, so he speaks from experience when he urges his side to respect the All Blacks but avoid the pitfall of doing so too much. He feels Ireland were guilty of that on Saturday and not for the first time turned to cricket to illustrate his point.
“If you’re bowling against Steve Smith, or you’re bowing against Joe Root when he’s in form, you’ve got to be respectful of their ability,” he said. “But there’s a way to get a man out, there’s a way to get them out, and the good bowlers are able to work them out and keep there, not go away from the plan, keep digging away.
“But what happens is that people get bored and they try to find the magic solution and that magic solution allows that batsman to get free. If you allow them to get free they become a different player, but if you keep them where they don’t like to be for long enough you’ll get a result. It’s the same in rugby.”
Respect is important to Jones. Jones loves nothing better than to joust with some opposing coaches in public but Hansen is not one of them. The pair get on well, are in regular contact, exchanged text messages when their semi-final was confirmed and, regardless of the result, they intend to share a beer after the match.
“He’s a good bloke, to start with,” said Jones. “That’s No 1. Secondly, he’s got a great record. Just look at his record – Super Rugby with the Crusaders when we started coaching against each other followed by Wales, followed by New Zealand. You don’t get a better record than that.
“Having a respectful relationship is important in the game. You just have to see this tournament what it’s done. The things that happen in this tournament don’t happen in other sports. You’ve got the Canadian and Namibian blokes cleaning up the ground. Could you imagine Ronaldo or Messi doing that if Barcelona or Real Madrid gets a [game] washed out? It’s a different game. And that’s why relationships with players, coaches and fans is so important in our game.”
Hansen has been equally complimentary. Clearly he is aware of the threat posed by England, who inflicted his first defeat as All Blacks coach in 2012. There are no players in Jones’s squad with experience of a World Cup semi-final – Hansen has 10 – but he believes England’s disastrous campaign four years ago has made them a more formidable proposition.
“They’re a very good side,” he said. “They’ve come to this tournament after being hurt at the last one and through that adversity – I think they’re stronger because of it. They’re desperate and they’re well coached.
‘It’s going to be a mighty clash and we’re looking forward to it. You don’t win 18 Test matches in a row without being a good team and the team that did that is basically the team he’s got here.
“He’s tinkered around with them and they’re playing good footy so they’ll be confident, as we will be.”