"I was coaching him when he broke his neck" - Jason Holland: All Blacks Coach has history with England Defence Coach Felix Jones - Ruck

“I was coaching him when he broke his neck” – Jason Holland: All Blacks Coach has history with England Defence Coach Felix Jones

All Blacks assistant coach Jason Holland has been sharing the side-lines with a face from his past, as New Zealand take on England across this two-match Summer series. Holland has previously crossed paths with England defence coach Felix Jones, and was overseeing the former fullback at Thomund Park when he suffered his career ending injury.

Jones was forced to retire early in his career, after the former Munster player broke his neck in the 2014/15 season. Jones has evidently since made a solid recovery from the injury which ended his playing days, and after hanging up the boots the Irishman headed down to New Zealand to reconvene with Holland and commence his coaching journey.

Felix Jones, Defence Coach of England during the Guinness Six Nations Match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on March 9th 2024. – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

The All Blacks assistant coach explained how the two shared a very brief history at the Hurricanes, as Jones asked some all-important questions which helped him find his feet in the rugby coaching landscape.

“It is pretty cool actually. I was coaching him when he broke his neck playing over at Thomond Park. I think he retired when he was 23-24 and Felix has come over to the Canes for a week a couple of years ago. I know him pretty well but I haven’t really had a chat to him. We’ll wait until after Saturday until you can actually relax and have a proper chat.

“I don’t think he stayed with me (in New Zealand) unless he snuck in when I wasn’t there! But he came around a couple of times, when he was at the Hurricanes for a week.”

Felix Jones, Defensive Coach of England during the England Captains Run at Twickenham Stadium, London on 8 March 2024 (Photo: George Beck/PPAUK)

Holland expressed how despite Jones’ career set-backs as a professional player, he always expected the Dublin man to press on to great things within the world of coaching. The 13-capped Ireland international possessed the key elements to succeed behind the touch-line in Holland’s eyes, with the New Zealander picking out Jones’ determination and attention to detail, as leading factors within his mentality.

“Yeah, he has got a real drive and Felix at 15 who put his body on the line. I was scared with where he was putting his body. He’s really analytical. He really enjoyed the high ball defence side of the game.”

Holland has been tested against Felix Jones’ tactical prowess, as the former Ireland international has been implementing a solid defensive system to Steve Borthwick’s plans. Jones’ playbook is of gold-standard quality, as the 36-year-old arrived in the England camp off the back of his involvement within the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup winning set-up.

Richard Wigglesworth, Attack Coach of England and Felix Jones, Defensive Coach of England during the England Captains Run at Twickenham Stadium, London on 9 February 2024 (Photo: George Beck/PPAUK)

Jones has incorporated the same blitz defence system into the England team, that helped South Africa claim the title of world champions. Expressing how the fearsome line-speed and relentless pressure is asking questions of his All Blacks, Holland explained how if things go wrong against that level of defensive aggression, his injury list could soon be stacking up.

“Exactly the aim of it is to put pressure on your time, space and skills. If you get things wrong and get don’t get things right like your skills or depth, then you can get hurt. We’ve got a couple of ideas around how we make sure it’s hard for them to bring that linespeed ,as in you have to go backwards to come forwards.

“You’ve got to get a balance to what you do. We can’t get predictable, we’ve got to make sure we’ve got a little bit in our game, and a little bit more than what we had down in Dunedin”

“If you start throwing big, wide balls over it they’re really good at recovering as you would have seen on the weekend. Their wingers chop back in. It’s a form of ‘D’ (defence) that Felix loves and he has the English boys really buying into it. We’ve got to make sure we’re going to the spaces when it’s there.”

Looking ahead to this Saturday’s meeting against England, and Holland won’t be able to rely on the talents of TJ Perenara. The scrum half suffered a knee injury, as a result of falling collaterall to a George Martin and Scott Barrett altercation. Perenara will expectedly be replaced by Blues halfback Finlay Christie, with an exciting debut on the cards for Chiefs nine Cortez Ratima. Speaking upon the reshuffled ranks and Perenara’s exit, Holland added;

“Yeah, it looked pretty nasty when it happened, but he’s better than expected. We are waiting on a specialist to determine exact return to play dates but it’s way better than expected. Hopefully it is not too long but we haven’t got an exact date yet. It is not this weekend at this stage.”

“We’re not sure [what he’s done]. It’s around his knee. The specialist report will let us know in the next day or so.”

“We’ve seen Cortez [Ratima] in Super footy and he’s been awesome. He realises it’s a step up, and has been awesome for the past 2 and a half weeks since we’ve been together. Diligent, making sure he’s all over everything, and he’ll be in a space that if he works hard in the week, which I know he will, he’ll be good to go.”