Eddie Jones....The real clown of world rugby? ... and he's a scary one.....

Forget Michael Cheika. Eddie Jones is the real clown of the world rugby circus. Jones is no bumbling buffoon or jovial jester. He is a menacing clown with a dark side, terrorising poor Cheika as if he were part of the creepy clown craze that has swept the world.

He does not even need make-up or a costume to act the clown, just those mischievous eyes, cheeky grin and eviscerating one-liners. A Jones media conference is like a dark carnival where he dis­sects his victims with the sharpest of tongues.

He was at it again this week, dredging up an old drama. Jones talked about the Australian media’s “disrespectful” treatment of England in June, where they were written off on arrival and teased at a press conference by former player Stephen Hoiles who was working for Fox Sports.

“Stephen Hoiles was a player I coached, I gave him his first cap for Australia, he’s a guy I like but he behaved absolutely terribly,” Jones said. “We’ve since chatted after that and that’s where it ends.”

Cheika suggested Jones’s insecurities led him to carry on.

“He has always operated with a chip on his shoulder and now that there’s not a chip because he’s going really well, he’s got to keep looking for it,” Cheika said yesterday. “I think he’s very respected in Australia. I don’t know where that unrespected comes from.”

Jones is a master of using black comedy to belittle his adversaries and no one has been the victim of his invective more than Cheika, who in turn has looked bemused and besieged.

Jones teased and tormented Cheika throughout June, describing his old Randwick teammate as the “world’s best coach”, a line dripping in sarcasm, and claimed an ARU conspiracy against England.

After the New Zealand Herald portrayed Cheika as a clown before the third Bledisloe Cup match, Jones could not wait to get in on the act, saying the Wallabies would “not be sending clowns” on their European tour. Boom-boom!

In June, Cheika had no comeback to Jones, but he has had five months to think about a riposte. When the Wallabies arrived in London this week Cheika got on the front foot, comparing Jones unfavourably to soccer players who are respectful when they score goals against their former teams.

Cheika wondered aloud why Jones would criticise Australian rugby, biting the hand that fed him a decade ago. Jones would have chuckled darkly over that one. He is not biting the hand that fed him, but the hand that drove the dagger into his back. Eddie has never forgotten that he was sacked as Wallabies coach and never will.

But there is a method to Jones’s madness. His clown act is all about playing mind games, getting under his opponent’s skin.

The attacks on Cheika and the Wallabies has been unrelenting. Prior to England’s Test against Argentina he described the Pumas as the second-best team in the Rugby Championship, not Australia, who had come second. Jones announced he would be at his best for the Wallabies Test, an odd thing for a coach to say, but underlining just how personal this grudge match is for him.

Then all of a sudden Jones started to say some nice things about the Wallabies. How they were the most improved side in world rugby. But then he delivered the killer line: England would be “smarter tactically” than the Wallabies. In other words, I’ve got you covered, Cheik!

Cheika had a gutful of Jones’s antics and determined not to turn the other cheek. But the lines were not so funny any more. Throwing a couple of hand grenades Jones’s way, Cheika accused England prop Dan Coles of being a serial cheat and revealed Jones had stormed out of a referees meeting in June. Jones hit back, saying Cheika had broken the code of silence. What happens in a private meeting stays in a meeting.

Perhaps realising the sideshow had gone too far, Jones was in a more conciliatory mood, explaining that his jibes were all just for fun. Fun? Stop it Eddie, you’re killing me! Jones has had a lot of fun at Cheika’s expense this year, but he who laughs last, laughs loudest.

BRET HARRIS
Senior rugby writer Sydney The Australian

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6 April 2019
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