"Eddie Lived and Died by the Sword." - Dylan Hartley: Ex-England Captain Recalls Experiences with Eddie Jones Ahead of Japan Clash - Ruck

“Eddie Lived and Died by the Sword.” – Dylan Hartley: Ex-England Captain Recalls Experiences with Eddie Jones Ahead of Japan Clash

England get their trio of Summer series fixtures underway this Saturday, as Steve Borthwick’s men take on Japan in the Yokohama National Stadium. The underlying narrative heading into Tokyo, is the reunion of Eddie Jones with England, as the Australian will take charge of the Brave Blossoms for the first time since returning to the Far East.

Jones’ return to Japan was surrounded by infamy, as he was ousted from his post as head coach of the Wallabies after less than a year in the job. Jones oversaw the Wallabies’ pool stage elimination from the 2023 Rugby World Cup, with rumours leaking throughout the tournament that he had in fact been in talks with Japan before setting out to France.

Eddie Jones, Coach of Barbarians during the The Killik Cup Match between Barbarians and World XV at Twickenham Stadium on 28 May 2023. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

Despite the dubious circumstances that have since landed Jones with the JRFU for the second time in his career, there is no understating his talents as a head coach. Jones was at the helm of the Brave Blossoms iconic 2015 Rugby World Cup ‘Brighton miracle’ victory against the Springboks, and he would love nothing more than to cause a similar upset against England this Saturday. Former England captain Dylan Hartley expects his former head coach to savour in the hostility, and speaking to Grosvenor Sport, Hartley said:

“He relishes conflict and confrontation. He is not scared of a direct conversation. If you go to him you had better have your ducks in a row and your facts, and be able to articulate why you are saying something. He will always want to know why. If you can provide the evidence he is a fair man and will respect the fact you’ve got your stuff in order.

Eddie Jones, England head coach during the UMBRO photo call at Pennyhill Park, Bagshot on 27 Aug. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“In essence he is a sports coach who is paid to win and has a winner’s mindset. We as high level sportsmen are not built like normal people. So when you interact with ‘normal people’ it doesn’t always work. It is like a metaphorical punch in the face when you’re confronted with someone like that and face blunt talking. People are far too easily offended these days. When we went to Australia with him it was fun because as an Aussie he really wanted to beat them.

“He gets competitive. For him it is the game within the game.  I have no doubt this will mean a huge amount to him and an opportunity for what is a Tier 2 team to do one over a Tier 1 side and hope to catch them cold. I am sure he will have something up his sleeve.”

Hartley looked back to the state that England were in prior to Jones’ appointment as head coach. The former Northampton hooker believed that the side was a ‘s*** show’, which was optimised by the 2015 Rugby World Cup pool stage exit, which made Stuart Lancaster’s side the first host nation to take such an early elimination. Whilst admitting that Jones took matters ‘to extremes’ at times, Hartley expressed how the Australian turned England around to enter a new era of better performances with a more stricter approach.

Dylan Hartley of England (Capt) arrives before the six Nations Championship match, between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium, London , UK, on the 17th March 2017. (Photo:Dean Lancaster/PPAUK)

“He did take it to extremes but I think that is in the past now. He is changing. I had a text exchange with him recently and was talking about a player. I asked him if he was going to get the ‘Old Eddie;’ or the ‘New Eddie.’ He said’ ‘Ah mate, a bit of old, and a bit of new. Times have changed!’

“The England team environment I was in after the 2015 World Cup was very different and to that at the end of Eddie’s reign. In 2015 England were a s*** show after the World Cup. There was no backbone, no belief and Eddie inherited that squad. Eddie came in and had to change things. When you do that you cannot pull a band aid plaster off slowly. You have to rip it off and jump straight in. He made us fitter, made us train harder. He showed us what professionalism looked like.

Dylan Hartley (captain) of England with Triple Crown Trophy, after the Six Nations Championship match, between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium, London , UK, on the 12th March 2016.- Photo mandatory by-line: Dean Lancaster/Pinnacle – Tel +44(0) 1363 881025 – Mobile 0797 1270 681 – VAT Reg No: 183700120 – 12/03/2016 – SPORT – RUGBY – RBS Six Nations Championship – England v Wales, Twickenham Stadium, London, UK.

“For the three years I was involved, it was hard. But we were laying the foundations for a new culture and a better one which saw us to the 2019 World Cup final and the semi-finals in 2023 both after poor Six Nations. Do the hard stuff then you can take the foot off a bit when people have the routine stuff ingrained in them, organised, diligent.

“When Eddie came in we needed to change. He came in and said, ‘We are going to do this and have to, and it will be ugly. ‘We benefited from it. And that was the start of a pretty successful period in English rugby history. The foundations were laid by a hard man who delivers results. Most players respected and appreciated being driven like that. That way you maximise your potential. Eddie won’t need to shake the foundations too much in Japan. Their culture is about respect and they will do it.”

Jones and Hartley soon formed a solid partnership as head coach and captain, with a mutual level of trust and respect established between the two. Whilst his overwhelming run as captain under Jones was a positive experience that got England winning again, Hartley expressed how policies such as the lifted alcohol ban breathed a new edge to England’s training sessions, as respect was paramount with the individual’s decision placed at the forefront.

Eddie Jones, Head Coach of England during the Autumn Nations Match between England and Tonga at Twickenham Stoop on 6 November 2021. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“Initially I had to earn my sport.” Hartley continued. “Rugby is not like cricket where the captain almost chooses the team. Having spoken to Alaistair Cook (former England Cricket captain) about captaincy, I soon came to realise that. I trusted Eddie. When he first came in none of the players had a leg to stand on because we had been serial underachievers. 

“I told the team that no-one in the world was training as hard as us. We could moan about being tired or we could  approach it by thinking how fit we were and how well prepared we were from which we could take great confidence.

“I trusted Eddie from the start. Once we had earned his respect I could go to him and discuss things the players might have felt strongly about, small things perhaps like days off, longer in bed. He was very fair. He told me off the field it was my team, our team and we could do what we wanted to. Drink, if we wanted to, have socials if we wanted to, go out if we wanted to.

Eddie Jones, England Head Coach during England Rugby training session at The Lensbury Hotel, Teddington, London on 24 June 2021. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“He made it clear there would be no cutting corners or sacrifices of time on the field. We had to earn the right. Under previous management there was a no alcohol policy. It was like a bunch of little boys. All of a sudden when you give men the option to do what they want, they often do the right thing. When you say you can’t do this or that it’s like a moth to the flame and guys would want to do that. It was liberating. He worked us incredibly hard as a team and off the field we could run things how we wanted.”

Jones’ run as England head coach ran up until 2022, as that year saw England achieve just five wins from 12 test matches. The Australian was sacked in December of that year, and left the RFU with an overall win percentage of 73%, which stands as a record for any England head coach. Hartley was not impressed in how Jones was removed from office, with the head coach’s dismissal leaving a ‘sour taste’ in the former front-rower’s mouth.

“As a very matter of fact person, when a job is over, it’s over. No looking back. But England owes him huge thanks. Someone said to me how you enter an organisation is very important and so is how you leave one. The taste in the mouth over Eddie’s departure wasn’t good. The pitchforks were out for him. It all collapsed like a ton of bricks.

Eddie Jones Head Coach of England shares a laugh with Danny Care of England during the Quilter International Match between England and New Zealand at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on 10th November 2018. – PHOTO: Gareth Davies/PPAUK

“But I respected him because he was consistent throughout. He is true to his colours. He fronts up every week. Says what he thinks and goes for it. He was always consistent. The English public and the RFU should have thanked him far more. He gave us some fantastic years of rugby and unearthed some talent, players I’d never heard of. He was at a club game all the time. He called meetings around the country when he wasn’t allowed to with players volunteering their time because they wanted to.

“He got us to put England first rather than club vs club, such as Northampton, Leicester. He got us way more connected. In the early days in team rooms players wouldn’t give their IP (individual plan) to the team because the club was more important. Eddie changed that, made England players believe in him and that playing for England would be the best time of their lives.

“Players started contributing to the greater cause. For instance, we would meet at the Northampton Holiday Inn where senior players from the Saints, Leicester and Saracens would come to discuss England. That has never happened before. On my days off I would drive down to Pennyhill Park and have a coffee with him. Or go to St Albans to meet Mako and Billy Vunipola and Owen Farrell. There were other things he did like turn up to coach someone’s under 10s team because he had been asked.

Owen Farrell Co Captain of England and Dylan Hartley Co Captain of England lift the trophy after the win during the Quilter International Match between England and Australia at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on November 24th 2018, (Photo: Cameron Geran/PPAUK)

“He did it without any fanfare. He was very committed to his role as the coach of England and the betterment of the team. You can’t always get it right from the off. Not everyone is a Tom Curry who can be world class every game from the start. Sometimes players don’t hit the ground running and he told them what they had to go away and work on.  England are now benefiting from that. Eddie lived and died by the sword. He was not afraid to be bold.”

Looking ahead to the upcoming fixture, Hartley recognises how England head coach Steve Borthwick would love nothing more than to get one over on Eddie Jones. Hartley believes that despite the external projections in how they go about their business, Borthwick is more similar to Jones than one would first expect.

Steve Borthwick, Head Coach of England during the England Captains Run at Twickenham Stadium, London on 9 February 2024 (Photo: George Beck/PPAUK)

“Steve Borthwick is like Eddie, which isn’t a surprise. You have to go to him with your ducks in a row. If you go to him with an idea, you must have a reason and facts to back it up. So, if the attack leader says to Steve we have to change and this is why, which may have happened in the Six Nations, then he is flexible enough to take that on board. Players love to complain. As captain I used to receive complaints the whole time. I made a rule: ‘Don’t complain. Just tell me your solution’.

“The challenge is now to make sure England pick up from the end of the Six Nations and not go back to how they started it. That has to be the level. The longer they are together and integrate players, this young group will do good things together. Under Eddie, Steve was the de facto head coach. Eddie sat at the top and Steve delivered the majority of it all. All his coaching experience has been under Eddie.

“You can fairly confidently say he has been influenced by the way Eddie coaches from the good, bad or whatever point of view. He did his apprenticeship under Eddie and the way he did things. Now he is putting his own stamp on things.”

“This group is evolving well. It is a younger group. They are beginning to have that confidence in themselves. These things take time before they finally click. The summer tour squad is pretty much a continuation of the Six Nations in terms of personnel. That is a real benefit. It was Borthwick’s first squad for the Six Nations rather than having just to get through a World Cup. Drop in the momentum that Bath and Northampton had from the season means the team is in a good place in terms of picking up from where they left off.”