Precisely what Eddie Jones does or not does not say is generally less important than the key messages he is trying to impart.
On Thursday, released from his self-imposed Trappist silence, was a prime example. While he did not utter the words “nasty” and “horrible”, he wants England to stop being too nice and be far more ruthless in big games such as Saturday’s match with Wales.
Every time he talked about “New England”, Jones’s wish to distance himself from the side who departed the Rugby World Cup in the pool stages was obvious. For the past four consecutive years, England have finished second in the Six Nations. Making that small step on the scoreboard, in the coach’s view, requires a giant-sized mental leap.
Thus it is that an unchanged side containing several players who lost to Wales on the same ground in the autumn disguises a significant change in attitude. “I’m not an Englishman but I reckon I understand what makes English sport tick and we need to be aggressive,” Jones said.
“You go back to the great Ashes cricket series. When have England won Test matches? When they’ve had two fast bowlers – or are least one – that wants to rip every Aussie batsman’s head off. To me that is English sport.”
Translated into oval ball language that means hitting Wales murderously hard around the gainline and breakdown and letting the devil take the hindmost. Taking a pop at the legality – or otherwise – of Wales’s scrum engagement is simply the cherry on top. England’s three wins have contained some encouraging moments but Jones believes it takes a different mindset to secure titles as opposed to finishing runners-up. “Greatness is defined by being able to do it on the big stage and Saturday is a big stage, isn’t it? I saw an article written by Brian Moore talking about Test animals. It’s true. The big players stand up and the players who are going to make it stand up. We know Maro Itoje is a Vauxhall Viva at the moment but he can become a BMW on Saturday.”
It is not just Itoje, preferred once again to Joe Launchbury in the second row, for whom this will be a massive 80 minutes. The bench, in some cases, looks more dynamic than some of the starting combinations but underestimating Jones selection-wise is rarely smart. Once again this looks a team equipped, in the words of the captain Dylan Hartley, “to ride the storm” before seeking to cut loose later.
During the World Cup it worked out slightly differently but the return of Manu Tuilagi gives England the kind of impact replacement they lacked six months ago. Not that Jones is harking back even slightly to the World Cup.
“We haven’t spoken about it once because it is irrelevant to this group of players. This group trains differently, they think differently about the game. I’ve been scarred by games in the past as a coach but you don’t stay involved in high-level sport if you carry baggage around. If we need that to motivate us, I’ve done a bad job during the week.”
Far better, he feels, to focus on more uplifting memories, such as the hot day three years ago when his Japan side beat Wales 23-8 in Tokyo.
The Welsh did not have their Lions contingent but Dan Biggar did feature at fly-half. “You could see he was going to be a good player but he has exactly the same habits now he had then. Good players present threats but they also present opportunities. When you look at Wales there are massive opportunities to attack them. Every defence system has its flaws.”
Two, in other words, can play at the game of unsettling the opposition’s playmaker and Jones had a further dry riposte to Warren Gatland’s remark about “not disappointing” George Ford in terms of physical runners down his channel. “Oh, so you’re allowed to target players now? Sorry, I didn’t think you were allowed to do that. Will someone speak to Warren for me, please? Ask him to be more polite.” Touche, as they say in the antipodes.
The truth is that Jones rates Gatland highly. “He hasn’t coached for that long and that successfully not to be smart …he uses his players well.” A throwaway line about Wales – “There’s this little country sitting next to a big country … it’s little brother, big brother” – was also tinged with genuine respect. Even the media, it seems, are not entirely scoundrels. “As I’ve always said, the media is a really important part of the game but there are times when you need to be quiet. Quietness can get you a result.”
In the leaner, meaner world of New England, nothing else matters.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010