There is no substitute for hard work
“Nothing will work unless you do.”
The sentiment and origins of this quote from legendary basketball coach John Wooden will not be lost on England boss Eddie Jones.
The Australian has devoured Wooden’s wisdom, along with that of many other experts from a variety of sporting disciplines, on his unrelenting quest to improve as coach despite the fact he boasts an enviable amount of both experience and success.
The latest addition to that glittering CV is another Six Nations title that was secured with a woefully one-sided victory over Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday that kept alive their hopes of back-to-backs Grand Slams – something that has never been achieved in the latest incarnation of the Championship.
That win also saw England equal New Zealand’s record of 18 consecutive victories by a leading nation with Ireland now standing between them and history this weekend.
Many have weighed in on the secret to Jones’ success since he took charge in the wake of England’s disastrous 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign but one voice has been a little quiet – until now.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has no doubt been a keen observer of England’s rehabilitation and has identified what he believes is the key to their transformation from laughing stock to genuine rivals to the No.1 ranked side on the planet.
“Eddie has installed a want and a desire that has not been there," Hansen told BBC Radio 5 live’s Sportsweek programme in what could be viewed as a slight on the players and the previous coaching regime of Stuart Lancaster who scored a notable victory over the world champions in 2012.
“We always thought England had plenty of talent but did not want to work hard but they are doing that under Eddie and loving it,” he added.
It is a problem that Hansen himself is familiar with and one that coaches at every level of the game can also relate to – players who think talent offers a short cut to success.
“Sometimes you get players, we have a lot of them over here, who are very talented, but do not have the work ethic,” admitted Hansen.
“It’s not the players’ fault, but then someone comes in their lives, a parent, a teacher or in this case Eddie as a coach, who instils a work ethic and creates a vision that excites them and people change their habits. It looks like that is what has happened and it is great for rugby.”
When arguably the two most talented and successful coaches working in the game today remind you that there is no substitute for hard work then you really should pay attention no matter what level you coach at or aspire to play.
A higher work rate demands greater fitness and as a result it makes sense that Jones immediately questioned his squad’s physical capacity not long after taking charge before setting about remedying that fact with a radical revamp of their conditioning programme.
“I’m not saying we are unfit at the moment but there are periods of time in the game when we haven’t got the concentration and the application to do what we want to do,” Jones said last year.
“They’re not right for international rugby, that’s the distinction. They’re right for club rugby. They can play club rugby 365 days of the year but international rugby is faster, there’s more accelerations, the running speed is higher and you need to have a different sort of training for international rugby.”
Results since speak for themselves as does England’s headline-grabbing ability to sustain their physical performance for the entire 80 minutes – bolstered by the ‘finishers’ introduced off their bench.
The buy-in from a squad that is not dramatically different from that which suffered such a high-profile failure at the World Cup has been complete, perhaps inspired by the words of another legendary basketball figure who features in Jones’ personal library – Pat Riley.
“There are only two options regarding commitment; you’re either in or you’re out,” insists the success-laden former LA Lakers and Miami Heat coach.
If you didn’t know by now, Jones is a very clever coach and words are rarely wasted which makes his decision to throw the gauntlet down to his side ahead of their potentially historic clash in Dublin all the more interesting.
Perhaps surprisingly, instead of treating the Ireland showdown as just another stepping stone in his side’s development as you might have expected, Jones has acknowledged what is at stake and urged his players to embrace what is within their grasp rather than treat it as just another game.
“How many times in your life do you get to be great? It’s exciting,” he said. “We’ve got a fantastic opportunity…It would mean for the players they’ve achieved greatness.”
That approach may well reflect yet more of Jones’ bedside reading material. The England coach has previously gone on record about his interest in Buddhism and its influence on his coaching philosophy, specifically the desire to live in the present and not worry about the past or the future.
Jones insists his focus is solely on Ireland – and not the unbeaten record – perhaps due to the fact that he was not in charge for the World Cup victory over Uruguay that kick-started the winning run.
Perhaps he is also wary that England’s run includes just six victories over Rugby Championship rivals while New Zealand’s included 11 such match-ups. Interestingly, a clash of the two rivals is missing from both runs.
But make no mistake England remain headed in the right direction – a fact underlined by Jones in the wake of the Scotland rout.
“…We were ruthless and behaved like the number-one team in the world. The number-one team in the world goes on and finishes that off,” he said as if to rattle the All Blacks’ cage before stepping back.
“We’re not beating our chests and saying we’re the number-one team in the world, but we aspire to be the number-one team in the world.”
He continued: “We’re one year into a four-year project. We’ve done reasonably well in the first year.”
Nobody is buying that assessment but we can trust Jones’ promise that the hard work will continue.
“We want to be the number-one team in the world but we’re not,” he said, “so we have got to get better."