Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

Felix Jones brings a strong presence to boost England's chances in the Six Nations tournament.
Rugby union Sport

Felix Jones brings a strong presence to boost England’s chances in the Six Nations tournament.


“If you cannot defeat them, employ them.” The last time England’s players encountered Felix Jones was when he was the assistant coach for the South African team that narrowly beat them in the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup in Paris last year. Now, he is in their inner circle. An Irishman with an English rose on his chest, seeking to divulge some insider knowledge from the Springboks before this year’s Six Nations tournament.

Which options are being considered? Is it the communication system from the Boks’ coaching box known as the “traffic light”? Or the 7-1 split between forwards and bench players? Or perhaps bringing in well-known water carriers? According to Jones, the answer to all of these is currently no. When asked if Rassie Erasmus’s traffic light system would make an appearance at Twickenham, Jones responded with a quiet “no”. And as for having a “Nuke Squad” of bulky replacements, Jones believes that is a possibility for the future, but not anytime soon.

What will the 36-year-old Jones, who still resides in Dublin, bring to his new position as England’s defense coach? Based on the extensive notes he has scribbled in blue ink on the back of his left hand, it seems that he will bring a great attention to detail. Head coach Steve Borthwick describes him as “one of the most intense individuals I’ve ever encountered, and that’s saying something.” During Jones’s first tactical briefing with the team, Borthwick recalls him discussing concepts that no other coach has ever mentioned before, and the room falling silent as they realized the additional value he could provide.

Jones’s coaching resume is impressive, having experienced two World Cup wins and a successful series against the British & Irish Lions. This is even more remarkable considering that coaching was not his intended career path. After his retirement at 28 due to injury, he was asked by Anthony Foley to assess Munster’s strategies and provide feedback. This led to Rassie Erasmus offering him a more serious coaching role the following season.

Felix Jones during the South Africa rugby squad captain’s run at 2023 Rugby World Cup

Display the image in full screen mode.

Jones comes from a family of well-known Irish architects and possesses a logical mindset that is well-suited to the modern game, which heavily relies on data. He is also well-versed in the current state of the sport, having played alongside several members of England’s current team. In 2015, when the Irish Wolfhounds and England Saxons faced off in Cork, Elliot Daly and Henry Slade were his opponents on the field while Luke Cowan-Dickie and Maro Itoje were substitutes. Dan Cole mentioned playing against Jones in a Churchill Cup game and it is possible that Danny Care also faced him in an U20s match, showcasing how they have all been involved in the sport for a significant amount of time.

He has a deep understanding of the necessary elements for success at the top level in today’s game – and what strategies could be borrowed from the reigning champions. “It may not always apply universally, but for those who have played rugby, there’s a sense when a team is united, determined, and relentless in their efforts. This holds true whether you’re playing at a school or international level, where winning collisions is highly valued and goes without saying.”

He is well-known for his understanding of the breakdown, which is aided by the impressive array of powerful forwards that South Africa possesses. England, on the other hand, is still working to form their own formidable lineup. However, Jones emphasizes that strength alone is not the solution. He believes that qualities like character, resilience, and determination also play a crucial role. Therefore, if we can continue to identify players in the Premiership who possess these traits, it can be just as effective, if not more so, in terms of winning collisions.

Jones is highly skilled in understanding how modern Test level defenses work. Many defenses are focused on putting pressure on their opponents’ abilities. With the improvement of attack skills, this has become a major priority. Based on the semi-final match at Stade de France in October, it seems that England already has a strong foundation in place. The perception is that the English team is tough and effective to beat. Despite the heavy rain, the match was intense and thrilling in terms of strength and closeness.

Bypass the advertisement for the newsletter.

This raises the question of whether he will expand England’s perspectives or, following South Africa’s successful approach, limit them? While pleasing spectators may not always be a top priority for coaches, fans at Twickenham are eager for a more inspiring performance. Jones reminds us that winning Test matches is also important and we must not overlook what is effective. Finding a balance between the two can be difficult.

England players look dejected as they receive a guard of honour from South Africa players after the 2023 Rugby World Cup semi-final match

Display the image in full-screen mode.

How he fares in Kevin Sinfield’s former role will be integral to the team’s development either way. These are early days but Jones is not someone who shrinks in the face of adversity. The highlight of his playing career, he reckons, was managing to battle back from two serious knee operations and a dislocated neck. When he invites England’s players to gather round and hear his thoughts on how exactly to approach major games, his track record suggests they would do well to listen.

Source: theguardian.com