A lot has changed in the six years since England thundered through Australia on their last tour Down Under. Eddie Jones arrived on Wednesday very much the man under pressure.
The eyes smiled under the mandatory mask at Perth Airport. Like any returning Australian, there would have been part of Jones that reflexively relaxed upon re-entry to the vast skies of his home country.
But there is nothing relaxed about his position as England coach in his seventh season and Jones’ defensive rhetoric on the eve of his departure spoke volumes about how he is positioning this England team.
“It is completely different conditions, really hard flat tracks, abusive crowds. The Australians are in the face. The media are going to be in our face. They are aggressive. It is a really aggressive environment. You can learn so much about your players and your squad on those tours, and we’ve missed that,” Jones told the English media before hopping off the marathon London to Perth flight this week.
“I think they’ve sold out every game. It’s going to be huge. It’s going to be fantastic for rugby. It’s going to be fantastic for our squad. Australia tour, three Tests, sell-out crowd, 65,000 people in Perth, 55,000 in Brisbane, 45,000 in Sydney. You can’t think of a better experience against a good Australian team.”
“Abusive” Australian crowds? Sold-out games? Wrong on both counts. England will trickle, unheralded, into Perth in the middle of the AFL season. Ticket sales for the first Test at Optus Stadium – sold out for the State of Origin clash on Sunday – were soft until recently. On current projections, the 65,000-seat beauty will be a good measure short of capacity.
But Jones has never let the truth get in the way of a useful narrative. At the same point ahead of England’s 2016 tour, full of vigour at the start of his time with rugby’s richest union, he went on the attack – wielding the phrase “Bodyline rugby” as if it were a weapon, turning a juvenile media stunt into ammunition for his own cause.
Back then, England were coming off a Six Nations championship. This time, they are coming off consecutive poor campaigns, Jones just surviving the dissatisfaction of the RFU board after this year’s showing. A few days before their departure, England – missing a portion of their regular starters, granted – were embarrassed by the Barbarians at Twickenham. The English press are the aggressors; Clive Woodward and Stephen Jones his most trenchant critics.
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