White: Eddie Jones the ‘king of mind games’

Wallabies scrum-half Nic White has dubbed Eddie Jones the “king of mind games” ahead of Saturday’s clash at Twickenham, after the England coach wasted little time whipping up a pre-match sideshow on multiple fronts to start the week.

It has already been a busy week for Jones, after he referenced US Open winner Emma Raducanu’s recent form when asked about the rise of young fly-half Marcus Smith, who made a sparkling cameo off the bench in England’s 69-3 win over Tonga.

Jones has faced a variety of criticism since, but his comments stayed true to his method of trying to take the pressure off his players or, as the case has also been this week, attempting to heap praise on the opposition or the referee.

And that is the case of whistle-blower Jaco Peyper, White and the Wallabies, who despite Sunday’s loss to Scotland, are a vastly different team to the one Jones and England completely dominated during a 7-0 run of the Michael Cheika years.

“Well the one thing I know is that we don’t get a head start from being ahead 7-0 against them,” Jones said earlier this week.

“Nic White is playing exceptionally well and they have got a lot of talented youngsters coming through.

“The team’s progressing under Dave Rennie. The breakdown against Australia is going to be brutal.

“Rennie’s teams are always renowned for being exceptional at the breakdown, so we are lucky we have got the best referee in the world next Saturday in Jaco Peyper – who is particularly very good in that breakdown area.”

All too aware of Jones’ personality, White couldn’t resist a chuckle when asked about the England coach’s assessment of his own form.

“It’s nice for him to give us some praise, but Eddie’s the king of mind games, so I’m certainly not reading into too much of what he says,” White said in London on Tuesday. “He’s a type of guy who you would love to sit down and have a beer with and talk rugby with, isn’t it? And then hopefully one day I get that chance.

“But he’s the king within rugby circles with the media and that sort of stuff, and I love listening to it. But like I said, this week will be a little different to previous games with England as we’ll probably focus on the things we could have controlled on the weekend just gone, and fix those, and really concentrate on us rather than in previous times concentrating so much on what England do.”

Jones’ latest comments follow an expose in The Times “Blazing rows, brutal texts and airport firings – why it’s so hard to work for England rugby coach”, which detailed a number of stories of Jones’ management style and offer reasons as to why he has moved through a swathe of backroom staff.

The England coach has never been afraid to think outside the box, and his latest appointment from the rugby league ranks is Anthony Seibold – the Brisbane Broncos coach who was eventually sacked after the club descended to bottom of the NRL ladder.

Seibold has, understandably, been glowing in his appraisal of his new employer, a man he first got to know when Jones himself had undertaken some professional development at South Sydney.

“I have really enjoyed my time so far – it’s been really interesting working with the group and the coaching staff as well,” he said.

“I’ve been super-impressed with the professionalism of staff and players and I have really enjoyed myself, but we know there are some bigger tests to come over the next couple of weeks.”

While Seibold is still finding his feet as England’s defensive coach, another of Jones’ former assistants has already entrenched himself with the Wallabies.

Scott Wisemantel was given a lot of the credit for England’s hugely successful 2019 World Cup game plan, which fell one win short of the ultimate prize but had earlier resulted in comprehensive victories over both Australia and New Zealand.

When Rennie was signed on as Wallabies coach, the Kiwi wasted little time in getting Wisemantel onto his coaching team, understanding that the Australian was keen to return home.

And despite the weekend’s two-point loss to Scotland, Wisemantel, alongside Rennie, appears to have the Wallabies heading in the right direction, at least giving them a clear — and more complete — approach to how they want to play the game.

“Good energy…I think he’s just giving guys freedom to back themselves, to unlock a lot of guys at Test level and get them to feel comfortable,” White said when asked what Wisemantel had brought to the Wallabies. “When you wake up, he brings in a certain energy to the breakfast room, and in and around the place.

“He’s a great guy to have, especially these last couple of years when we’re on tour for a long time, you want guys like Wisey around…and then he’s been around the game a long time, he seems to be a couple of steps ahead of the game. And even for a few us that have been around a long time, [ensures we are] still learning.”

Whether Jones’ attempts to deflect the attention away from Smith, or at least try to keep him grounded, are part of an elaborate plan to then actually select him as a starting fly-half remains to be seen.

Captain Owen Farrell is again available for selection while George Furbank started at No. 10 in the demolition job on Tonga. But there is no doubting that the wider English rugby community is desperate to see the 22-year-old Harlequins sensation handed a start.

Having played against him during his time at Exeter, White too has been impressed by Smith’s attacking ability. But the Wallabies halfback won’t be losing any sleep over whether Jones hands Smith the No. 10 jersey either.

“Obviously watching Marcus Smith over the last couple of years, I played against him, he’s phenomenal,” White said. “There were a couple of questions when he was just a kid first playing [in the Premiership] around his defense, but he was a kid and I think he’s really come of age.

“When he’s got the ball in two hands he’s dangerous, with a pack like’s he’s playing with at [Harlequins], and with the English pack, there’s a lot of big guys outside him as well, and he can be the key of unlocking that. And he’s obviously a great kicker. But again, Eddie’s the king of mind games there and he’s the king of England, so he’ll make the call there and I’m sure he’ll get it right when it’s the right time.

“Certainly he’s done the right by Marcus in not rushing him in there, I think he played his first game when he was 18. So I think he’s been brought through pretty slowly and in the right way, both at Quins and with English rugby. He’s certainly the future, there’s no doubt about that.

“But when he fully takes the reins, it’ll be pretty exciting for English rugby. If he’s got them this weekend it’s another challenge for us, but we’re pretty used to playing against 10s like him who have got a fair bit of flair.”