Rugby’s Mourinho: Why Australian rugby desperately needs Eddie Jones


Eddie isn’t crazy. He hasn’t lost the plot. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s channeling his inner Jose Mourinho.

First up, let’s get a few misconceptions out of the way.

People appear to have forgotten Jones was the last Australia coach to win a Bledisloe, one of only two men to coach the Wallabies to a World Cup Final this century and one of only three to win a Super Rugby title as coach in the past 22 years.

While Australian rugby fans have stopped short of labelling Eddie ‘Judas’ this month, I’m reminded of Mourinho’s beloved Stamford Bridge and the Special One’s reaction when the Chelsea crowd turned on him.

“They can call me what they want. Until the moment they have a manager that wins four Premier Leagues for them, I’m the No.1. When they have somebody that wins four Premier Leagues for them, I become No.2. Until this moment Judas is No.1.”

The notion that Dave Rennie was mistreated because he was a Kiwi or that Jones himself got special treatment is also nonsense.

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

After reaching that famous final in 2003, Jones’ Wallabies suffered a spate of injuries before finishing 2005 with a series of narrow losses. Unlike Rennie, Eddie was sacked before a review even took place.

There was no mercy. No ‘he’s been unlucky with injuries’. No ‘he’s a victim of Super Rugby neglecting tight forwards’. The Buck stopped with Jones, as it should have done. Just as it stopped with Ewen McKenzie and Michael Cheika.

The treatment of Rennie is no more appalling than the treatment handed out to a Kiwi coach who hasn’t been sacked, Ian Foster.

The English bayed for Eddie’s blood too, of course, notwithstanding the fact his record was the best of any of their coaches at any time – 73 per cent (won 59 of 81 Tests). Ironically, Steve Borthwick owns his own records already, like the biggest defeat at Twickenham ever, a 53-10 loss to France this year.

Jones will be judged, not on the outcome of four Tests but of 40, not on one season but on four. In many ways, he’s put 25 years of professional coaching success on the line for his country.

But I digress.

There’s no doubt whatsoever that Eddie Jones’ recent outbursts have been calculated and targeted. Just as Mourinho’s often were. Designed to promote the game as well as distract from a state of flux. And get his face on the tele, of course.

In what’s been described variously as a “sustained rant”, a “hissy fit” and a “tirade of abuse”, Jones succeeded in all his aims.

Just last year, Eddie suggested that Rassie Erasmus might hide in the laundry to defy his stadium ban.

Coincidentally, or not, Mourinho once claimed back in 2005 to have hidden in a laundry basket to get around a two-match ban.

It’s no surprise that the Portuguese is on Eddie’s mind. There’s more than a little Jose Mourinho about Eddie Jones.

Both enjoy ‘banter’ with the media, but more importantly, recognise how to use it.

Need a siege mentality? Coming right up. Don’t want to expose young players to the front page, leave it with me! Want to pile pressure on another coach, great!

When Arsene Wenger stated that the Special One was playing his side’s title chances down due to a fear of failure, Mourinho famously noted, “If he is right and I am afraid of failure it is because I didn’t fail many times. Eight years without silverware, that’s a failure. He’s a specialist in failure.”

Would anybody be surprised to see Jones take aim at Warren Gatland shortly? He’s a bloke who hasn’t won much for a while.

I am sure that many of you will turn around and argue that Eddie has failed more than Wenger and won a lot less than Mourinho. But that’s unfair given his CV and more than a little short-sighted.

Let’s be clear, Jones’ recent decisions to dump Quade Cooper and pick Vunivalu have been frustrating and contradictory on the surface. Losing his first four Tests back in charge, unsatisfactory.

That doesn’t make him a failure.

Even Jones’ ‘failures’ have been tinged with more than a hint of success. Japan, of course, beat South Africa in 2015 in what was the greatest upset in World Cup history. His England beat New Zealand in 2019 before falling to Siya Kolisi’s South African side. The English media widely viewed that win against the All Blacks as one of the national side’s greatest performances.

As much as I respect Knuckles Connolly, the allegation Jones is a ‘charlatan’ is frankly rubbish and loaded with baggage and history.

Jones has recognised that Australian rugby is on its knees and needs to be shock started, like a dicky ticker.

Head coach Eddie Jones of Australia gives instructions during warm up before The Rugby Championship & Bledisloe Cup match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australia Wallabies at Forsyth Barr Stadium on August 05, 2023 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Peter Meecham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Peter Meecham/Getty Images)

It is delusional for the same old voices from the blazer brigade to deny that. Rugby is now the sixth sport in Australia, certainly after soccer and probably after basketball.

The relative success of the RWC campaign in 2015 only papered over the cracks. We’ve had the same cast essentially trying to win anything, something for the last decade. It hasn’t worked.

When Christie Doran wrote last week that the game in this country was on the brink of returning to amateurism, it wasn’t really a stretch. That should frighten us all.

Rugby in Australia is a game played on the margins, mainly by elites where old heads in posh amateur sporting clubs refuse to read the mail. Like Argentinian rugby was before another little general, Agustin Pichot, grabbed it by the scruff of the neck.

Eddie knows that a respectable but unsuccessful performance on a distant shore in an inconvenient time zone will get little attention from media that already pays less than little notice of rugby, whereas losing the Lions series or home World Cup may be terminal for the game.

And good on him for weighing those realities and ripping off the bandaid.

We should all be sick of losing, all tired of soothing excuses like “but didn’t they really try hard”, or “maybe if they’d had the bounce of the ball”.

Becoming specialists in failure is unacceptable. Risks must be taken now, not in 2024.

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“I’m not afraid to lose my job, and when you’re not afraid, you don’t feel any pressures. You are not too worried; you can express yourself in a different way. It makes you better, I think. I arrive with all my qualities and defects.”

That isn’t a quote from Eddie Jones by the way, although it easily could be, couldn’t it? As could this little gem from the Special One: “God must think I’m a great guy, he must think that because otherwise he would not have given me so much… he must have a very high opinion of me.”

There is box office in Eddie Jones, a propensity to back his gut and take unpopular risks on his own terms. He’s succeeded more often than not which is why he is where he is. Just like Jose Mourinho.

While it might make the Australian rugby community uncomfortable, that’s no bad thing for a game on its knees.

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