EDDIE Jones has never appeared especially well disposed towards Scotland. Granted, it is no part of his job description as England coach to say nice things about his team’s opponents, but there have been times when he has seemed openly antagonistic. Times, too, when Scotland supporters have gone over the top in their attitude towards him, notably in 2018 when three men from Edinburgh were fined for verbally abusing him the day after a Calcutta Cup game.
It therefore came as a surprise at last week’s Six Nations Championship launch to hear the Australian reveal that as a young hooker his idols were Scottish players.
Jones, who is celebrating his 61st birthday today (Saturday), was born in Tasmania but moved to Sydney while still at school. He went on to turn out for local club Randwick and for New South Wales, but rather than having role models in the older players around him, his heroes were on the other side of the world.
“During the period I was growing up, Scotland had a really good side,” he recalled. “They had a fantastic hooker, Colin Deans, who I always wanted to be – fast, aggressive. And I actually met him recently up at Northampton – he lives up there.
“And they had an outstanding back row – John Jeffrey, [Finlay] Calder – really tough. And they played that fast rucking game as opposed to England, who played historically more of a stand-up game. So you had this fast, aggressive team against a more stand-up team: it was a good contrast in the styles of rugby.”
It was a contrast which stood Scotland in good stead on some occasions during that period, notably in 1983 when they claimed their last victory to date at Twickenham, and in 1984 and 1990 when they won Grand Slams. But these days England are far more dynamic, and, since Jones took over, far more professional too in their meticulous attention to detail when preparing for games.
It was in fact against Scotland at Murrayfield that he made his debut as head coach, and although it was widely thought that England were there for the taking, they did enough to win 15-9 – a result that is a fond memory for Jones, even if he and his players did not get the friendliest of welcomes. “I can remember arriving at the ground, and the abuse we received set a great scene for the game,” he said. “The team and I didn’t know each other that well – I think we had 10 days together and we had to find a way to win that game.
“It’s a great game, England-Scotland, because it means so much to everyone. I remember a couple of years ago, coming back from a Scotland game and getting accosted by a few Scottish supporters, which was a bit of fun. Yeah, it’s a great game.”
The incident to which he referred, the day after Scotland’s 25-13 win at Murrayfield, was not really “a bit of fun” at all, but an example of how a small minority can get carried away by the rivalry between the teams. Of course, on Saturday at Twickenham the Calcutta Cup clash will be held behind closed doors due to the pandemic. So will the lack of a crowd make the occasion any less tribal and passionate, either during the match itself or in the following days?
“The answer is I don’t know,” Jones admitted. “What I do know is that the players will be 100 per cent committed, and it will mean as much for the English players as it will for the Scottish players whether there’s 80,000 people there or not.
“It’s an important game. They see it as an important game, we see it as an important game, and it will be intense and it will be a tough game.”