Eddie Jones is an archetypal Australian. Passionate, abrasive and highly-competitive, the 59-year-old rugby union coach, ticks all the boxes apart from one.
In short, his goal is to win the World Cup with arch-rivals England in Japan, a country that is part of his DNA.
“Sometimes it feels [like home], sometimes not. I never came over here until I was 31 with my wife and that was my first time,” he said.
“My mum used to live down the road there [in Tokyo]. If she had kept hold of the house, I probably wouldn’t have had to work now … it’s probably worth 10 million,” Jones joked in a television interview with Sky Sports.
But there is a serious side to his connections with the host nation. His Japanese-American mother Nellie spent nearly four years in a US internment camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Born in the States, she was only 16 when she was separated from her father, who grew oranges outside the Californian city of Sacramento.
After World War II ended, they moved to Japan, where she worked as an interpreter for the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Eta Jima, which is 20 kilometers from Hiroshima.
It was there that she met, fell in love and eventually married Ted Jones, an Australian soldier before they moved to Tasmania.
“Beyond the rugby, I was immersed in the story,” Donald McRae, who worked with the England coach on his autobiography My Life and Rugby by Eddie Jones which is published in November, said.
“Jones is resilient and tough, and he believes these qualities were passed on to him by his mother. The grit of Nellie, who is still alive and well in Sydney at the age of 94, was forged in the Second World War,” McRae wrote in The Observer, the Sunday newspaper owned by The Guardian group in London.
Showing a side of his character rarely explored in the media, Jones talked about his mother’s influence in shaping his life.
“My mother is a very hard person, probably too hard sometimes [because of what she went through in life]. That is where I get the hardest from. I was taught to stick at things, and that has helped greatly when it comes to coaching,” he said.
Writer McRae illustrated the strong bonds:
“Jones began to understand his mother’s past only when she gave him a copy of David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars – a novel about a young Japanese-American man accused wrongly of killing a white fisherman.
“His trial plays out against the anti-Japanese sentiment that coursed through America in the wake of Pearl Harbor and the war.
“Nellie did not talk about racism or suffering. Instead, she used the novel to illuminate her past. It was moving to hear this story and it helped Jones to talk more personally.
“I think [he] was touched profoundly because he remembered how lucky he had been growing up in Sydney as Ted and Nellie’s boy.”
Back in 2017, television cameras caught Jones screaming, “How f***ing stupid are we …” during England’s error-strewn 21-8 victory in an autumn Test against Argentina at Twickenham.
His mother was horrified. “She rang me up and said, ‘Please don’t swear.’ It’ll be the last time I swear,” he said at the time. “I was frustrated we didn’t play better. I think everyone was frustrated and sometimes you can’t control yourself.”
His Japanese-born wife Hiroko is the other powerful woman in his life.
Known as a hard taskmaster in pursuit of perfection on the training ground and in the Hell-like heat of Test matches, Jones was asked in 2016 who keeps him in check. “My wife,” he smiled.
But that is only half the story. During his first stint coaching in Japan, he confided: “[My wife said] ‘just remember, you will never be accepted as Japanese, so don’t ever think you will be.’ That really stayed with me, so I never cared whether I was liked or not. All I was looking for was respect. [My wife] is pretty clued-up.”
Eddie and Hiroko met when they were teachers at the International Grammar School in Sydney, and they now have a bilingual daughter, Chelsea.
Away from the World Cup pressure in 2003 when he was coaching Australia, Jones would sit with Chelsea and watch Hayao Miyasaki’s cult classic, Spirited Away, an animation film about a 10-year-old Japanese girl who wanders into a world ruled by gods, witches, and spirits.
As it turned out, the rugby gods deserted him in the final with England beating the Wallabies 20-17. His fate was sealed by a Jonny Wilkinson drop goal with just 26 seconds left in a pulsating, yet nerve-shredding, game.
Sixteen years later, Jones could be the right man in the right place for his old rivals.
“Eddie challenges, that’s the spiky side, he doesn’t let people become comfortable,” Wilkinson said. “So if you’re looking for a comfortable ride then that’s going to be difficult. But if you’re looking for a career where you can come out the other side of it and say ‘jeez, I went there and I found out what I was capable of’, then he’s the guy you want.
“We had that in 2003. And we had a beautiful environment where guys were motivated and encouraged to explore, and not to play it safe,” he added.
Jones’ CV is impeccable. After an impressive playing career with Randwick, one of the top clubs in Australia and practically an institution in Sydney, he decided to go into coaching after failing to break into the national team.
Working his way up the ladder, he galvanized the ACT Brumbies, winning the then Super 12 title in 2001 before taking over the Australian national team. Other highlights included a pivotal consultancy role for South Africa during their 2007 World Cup final triumph.
But, perhaps, plotting Japan’s success against South Africa in the 2015 tournament was one of his greatest achievements, along with England’s 2016 Six Nations grand slam. Leading them to a world-record equalling run of 18 consecutive Test victories a year later was another.
Now, he is aiming again for the biggest prize of all after England’s demolition of Australia in the quarter-finals last week. But first, there is the awesome challenge of New Zealand on Saturday for a place in the final. It simply does not get much tougher than this.
“It’s the two heavyweights of world rugby – one dressed in black, the crowd favorite, the nation’s favorite. The other in white … probably the most disliked team in the world,” Jones told a media briefing on Thursday.
So is he starting to feel the pressure?
“I’m always nervous. I wake up every morning thinking what bad things could happen to the team, and when I stop having that feeling it’s probably time for me to leave the game,” Jones said at a media briefing last week,” he added earlier. “Observing the players is important, who is going to cope with that different environment and who isn’t going to cope, because you see in a World Cup that players really grow or really shrink. Success for us at this World Cup is being at our best.”
Making sure he does not say sayōnara before the final is also a priority for the caustic but complex Australian.
My Life and Rugby by Eddie Jones, with Donald McRae, will be published on November 21 by Macmillan.