Despite Wales Head Coach Warren Gatland describing his national side to Eddie Jones' England as "poles apart", Crashball Rugby writer Jack Rees explains why the two national bosses are cut from the same cloth.
The comparisons between the national coaches of Wales and England are numerous, both played as hard-nosed hookers, Gatland as part of a tough Waikato front row and Jones played for Randwick and New South Wales. Neither really made the step up to international level and that is something that has obviously shaped them as they’ve developed as coaches. A chip on the shoulder may be a step too far but it is definitely a driving force in both becoming two of the most prolific coaches in the last 20 years. A World Cup victory with South Africa for Jones, as well as a grand slam with England in 2016. Gatland has a Lions series win on his CV alongside two grand slams and a European and multiple domestic titles in charge at Wasps. Stating their beliefs, whether it be to their players, their peers or to the media, comes naturally to both. In recent months both have been on the receiving end of strong criticism and were heading into their respective summer tours under severe scrutiny.
Eddie Jones, a polarizing individual that is as capable of throwing a stinging barb as he is a witty comment, has sustained contrasting fortunes over the course of the last three years. For the first two years of his tenure in charge, Jones had brought life back into a squad that had been at their lowest for many years. A humiliating exit from their own World Cup in the group stages had seen the end of Stuart Lancaster’s reign, alongside his deputies Andy Farrell, Graham Rowntree and Mike Catt. A grand slam victory during the 2016 Six Nations and a three-nil whitewash in his native Australia was a dream start for Jones and the new England. A solitary loss to Ireland was the only blemish to a staggering run of victories that included another Six Nations title in 2017 and an understrength squad coming away from Argentina with two victories. The Red Rose were concreting themselves as the most likely to test the stronghold of New Zealand at next year’s World Cup, but fans high expectations have suffered a significant blow of late.
Jones brought an intensity and ruthlessness to England that hadn’t been seen since the 2003 World Cup. The team almost emulated the coach himself. It’s this same intensity and ruthlessness that could be a major factor in their recent downturn.
The number of injuries during England training camps under Jones is alarming, as well as the seemingly high bar that has been set for what he believes an international player should be - in my view Don Armand being the biggest casualty. The series loss against South Africa has shown many things about this England side, lack of discipline being one of the highlights. Maro Itoje and Mako Vunipola are tremendous players but unless they take responsibility for their discipline then questions will begin to be asked over their inclusion. Discipline off the field is as important as it is on the field and while I do not condone any fan overstepping the mark with players, the reports of Joe Marler and Mike Brown engaging in a verbal altercation with spectators is yet another sign that tensions are running high. The players are following the coaches lead.
There have always been questions surrounding Jones’ selection policies and how he appeared to conduct himself during press conferences. He seems to enjoy playing the part of the villain, to deflect the pressure from his players onto himself. For a long time that worked and the results were clear for all to see, but the tide has turned and how long will it be until it’s not just the media and fans asking questions, but his own players. The victory in the third Test was a welcome sight for England and proved that it isn’t all doom and gloom. However, a stern Autumn series, where New Zealand, Australia and South Africa all visit Twickenham, will go a long way in showing where the Red Rose really stands under their unyielding head coach. One thing for sure is that Eddie Jones will have no doubt in his mind that he is the right man to lead England.
In contrast to Jones, Warren Gatland could not have wished for a better summer. Whilst the second-placed finish in this year’s Six Nations was a far better result than most fans would’ve expected, the losses away at Twickenham and the Aviva Stadium were incredibly disappointing. Aside from the exciting victory over Scotland, Wales never really looked like they were able to loosen the reins on their attacking structure. The pressure was mounting on Gatland and his coaches.
A man that has had his back against the wall many a time during his coaching career, Gatland has shown that he’s not afraid to make the big calls - no need to look any further than the dropping of Brian O’Driscoll for the third Lions test against Australia in 2013 to prove that point.
Depth and opportunity were the buzzwords coming from the Welsh coaching team leading up to the summer tour, a factor that many Welsh fans and pundits agreed was an issue with the World Cup only 15 months away. Ironically there seemed to be a divide in opinion once the squad was announced but once again Gatland made a number of big calls. Rewind back only to the beginning of last year and the mere thought of a Welsh team without the ilk of Leigh Halfpenny, Dan Biggar, Taulupe Faletau, Alun Wyn Jones and Ken Owens let alone a squad would have been inconceivable. Three victories later and naming the Wales squad for the World Cup has genuinely become a heck of a lot tougher, choosing the backrow alone will be enough to cause many sleepless nights for Gatland and co. Competition for places, players seizing their opportunities and what seems to be a very united and happy camp all bode well for Wales moving towards the World Cup.
Even though the head-scratching comment from former Pumas scrum-half Agustin Pichot, that Wales had devalued the international game by not selecting their front line players - even though the Argentinians were well beaten in both tests, was met with unexpected silence from the Welsh coaching team. The “poles apart” remark from Gatland regarding his thoughts on where Wales stand in preparation for the World Cup compared to their English counterparts proves that he will always be willing to provide the media with his jocular one-liners.
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