Eddie Jones Autobiography

Eddie Jones is resilient and tough and he believes these qualities were passed on to him by his mother. The grit of Nell Jones, who is still alive and well in Sydney at the age of 94, was forged in World War II. After Pearl Harbour was bombed by Japanese planes in December 1941, she and her family were sent to separate internment camps – despite the fact that, as a 16-year-old girl in a Japanese family, she had been born and raised in California. President Franklin D Roosevelt was candid in referring to the 'Relocation Centres' as concentration camps.

Nell did not see her dad for four years. After the war she wanted to return home, to the orange orchard her father owned outside Sacramento, but her father was embittered. He moved the family to Japan and they lived near Hiroshima, which had been devastated by the US atomic bomb on 6 August 1945. It didn't help that Nell looked Japanese and spoke the language. The locals knew she had been born in America and, at the age of 21 in 1946, Nell felt like an outsider in Japan.

Eventually, she began working as an interpreter for the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces. Their headquarters were in Eta Jima, 20kms from Hiroshima, and it was here that she met Ted Jones, an Australian soldier. They soon fell in love.

In 1947, Corporal HJ Cooke had become the first Australian soldier to apply for permission to marry a Japanese woman and bring her home. The application was rejected after Arthur Caldwell, Australia's Minister of Immigration, refused her entry, saying, 'It would be the grossest act of public indecency to permit a Japanese of either sex to pollute Australia.'

It took until March 1952 for Japanese women to be allowed to enter Australia with their husbands. By 1956, Ted and Nellie Jones were one of 650 married couples that left Japan for Australia. They settled in Tasmania and Nell faced yet more prejudice.

Yet Nell and Ted brought up their children, Diane, Vicky and Eddie, in a way which spared them this pain. They were raised with a sense of freedom and happiness.

Jones only began to understand his mother's past 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 Harbour and World War II. Nell 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. He described his dad, Ted, as an uncomplicated Aussie, the best kind of larrikin who worked hard and enjoyed watching sport and having a couple of beers with his mates on the weekend. But something deeper stirred in Jones when we discussed his dad. His eyes often welled up with tears and he could not speak. Despite his loss, I think Jones was touched profoundly because he remembered how lucky he had been growing up in Sydney as Ted and Nell's boy.

He never felt Japanese but, from a young age, Jones sensed that sport was his path to acceptance in Australian society. Jones could only remember one incident of racism in his playing career. He was playing for New South Wales against Queensland and their hooker called him a "Chink" and a "Chinese bastard."

"Mate," Jones replied, "you're too stupid to know the difference between the Chinese and the Japanese."

His life had been shaped by a fortunate coincidence. On his first day at kindergarten in the working-class Sydney suburb of La Perouse, Eddie sat next to Mark, Glen and Gary Ella, three Indigenous Australian brothers. Mark and Glen were twins; Gary was a year younger. Eddie and the Ellas would stick together through primary and high school.

The Ella boys were just three of 12 children who lived with their parents in La Perouse – which was called 'the Soweto of Sydney'. There was no inside toilet nor any hot water in the Ella's two-bedroomed house but it rocked with laughter, love and life.

Eddie and the Ellas went to Matraville High and played for, arguably, the greatest Australian schoolboy rugby team in history. The school was located in the shadow of Long Bay Jail – the most notorious high security prison in Australia. Both the school and the jail carried a disproportionately high percentage of young Indigenous Australians.

Jones suggested I interview Bob Dwyer. Apart from steering Australia to victory over England in the 1991 World Cup final at Twickenham, Dwyer had been Jones' mentor after coaching him for years at Randwick rugby club. Dwyer had also been in the crowd on the famous day when Matraville beat St Joseph's, the most prestigious rugby school in Australia.

Dwyer told me it looked like a Hollywood movie as the contrast between St Joey's and Matraville was comical. The privately-educated boys resembled a well-drilled team of all-American jocks. Matraville's small backs were called 'the blackline with a red tip' because they consisted of six Indigenous kids and a red-haired winger, Greg Stores. Glen and Mark, Eddie's best friends, sported big black afros which would have fitted more funkily in the Jackson 5 than an Australian schoolboy rugby team. Eddie Jones was their tiny half-Japanese hooker.

Joey's came out fast, like superstars, playing slick and aggressive rugby. But Matraville tackled hard and low, and ran at them relentlessly. Their backline was ridiculously flat as they passed the ball in dizzying patterns.

Their joy and skill, particularly the Ellas and Lloyd Walker, a silky smooth Indigenous kid playing at centre, astonished Dwyer. The four Indigenous boys and Jones joined Dwyer at Randwick – and all five of them, a third of the Matraville team, competed in international rugby years later. Jones, of course, did so as a coach.

Dwyer broke the news to Jones that he would not play for Australia. He was Australia's coach in 1990 when it seemed certain he would select Jones as the new Wallaby hooker. Dwyer told me that Jones looked sadder than anyone he had ever seen when the hooker heard the news. Dwyer had chosen Phil Kearns, his young understudy at Randwick. Jones was heartbroken.

His anguish was accentuated by the fact that he knew he was not really good enough to play Test rugby. He was far too small. Kearns was six foot tall and weighed 17.3 stone. So he was four inches taller and 4½ stone heavier than Jones. Kearns went on to play 67 Tests for Australia and was part of two World Cup winning squads in 1991 and 1999.

It took him a year to recover but Jones turned himself into one of the world's great rugby coaches. The lessons of his past have strengthened him and Jones reached two successive Super Rugby finals with the ACT Brumbies, winning the Southern Hemisphere's premier regional tournament in 2001. Two years later he guided Australia to the World Cup final where they held a far better team, England, to the last minute of extra time – when Jonny Wilkinson's drop goal settled the game.

Four years later, Jones helped South Africa win the 2007 World Cup. As much as he tried to underplay his 13-week consultancy role with the Springboks, two of their leading players told me they would not have won the tournament without Jones. John Smit, the Springboks' inspirational captain, and Fourie du Preez, their best player, were emphatic that Jones made the difference and ensured their victory.

His former players in Australia and Japan do not shy away from recalling the way in which he ripped them to shreds when they failed to do their job. But they also stress that Jones made every one of them a better player.

Jones himself is more interested in revealing some of the worst mistakes he made during his 25-year-career. He admits he should have resigned as Wallaby coach in 2003 because he was burnt out. But he flogged a limited team and clashed with his fellow coaches and administrators. Jones was sacked in 2005 after Australia lost seven of eight Tests – a painful end which left him in tears but vowing to return to the highest level of international coaching.

He then made the mistake of rushing back into his next job, as head coach of the Queensland Reds, and he hit rock bottom in May 2007. The Reds lost 92-3 to the Bulls in Pretoria. Yet, typically of Jones's rollercoaster career, he was in the Springbok dressing room just four months later as some of the same Bulls players helped South Africa hammer England 36-0 in a World Cup pool game.

South Africa gave him three months of respite in a testing five years. From December 2003 to Christmas 2008, it was a grind. "That's appalling, mate," he told me, "when you consider how much I love coaching." His last two years with the Wallabies were bleak. The Reds were even worse. The fun and harmony he experienced with the Springboks was then sucked dry by 14 months of grinding away at Saracens. Jones did not enjoy this spell in English rugby.

Japan was a backwater of world rugby but it rescued him when he returned to the county in 2009 to coach Suntory. He eventually became national coach in 2012. Jones transformed Japan as a rugby country and they, in turn, gave him new life as a coach.

His impact on Japanese rugby ran deep. Whenever he returns to Japan now he is struck by the latest statistics detailing the number of kids playing rugby. The increase, since Japan beat South Africa in 2015, is between 150 and 200%.

Of course there were difficult days in Japan. He lost his father and also suffered a stroke in October 2013. "People always ask if the stroke changed me," Jones said in one of our many interviews. "It did. I think I became less intense and learned to relax more. I'm sure the England players will find that amusing. Most of all, it made me grateful to be working again – in a job that gives me such pleasure and satisfaction."

I was surprised again when Jones said that, after the stroke, he found comfort in going to church in Tokyo every Sunday. "It was a nice coincidence that the pastor was a South African," Jones said. "He was a big Afrikaans guy who loved rugby. I think he was pleased I turned up."

Jones is a calmer coach now. He knows he can't win every battle and needs to pick them wisely. English rugby is scarred by bitter in-fighting between the clubs and the union. If Jones had not learnt some hard lessons while in charge of the Wallabies, he could have become swamped in the mess. But, apart from one obvious example when he became engaged in a spat with Bruce Craig, the owner of Bath, he has mostly kept a lid on his frustrations with the English game. He has stuck to his core task of selecting and coaching the national team.

The way in which he has changed the culture of the England team, and discovered the leaders it had been lacking, is eye-opening. In one of his many distinctive insights he suggested Japanese and English society are not that different in terms of the layers that need to be stripped away. In the end he always seems to find a way to the heart of his team.

The last two chapters of the book are set in Japan, in the heat of the World Cup. They are immersed in England's last three games against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. All the lessons and memories from the earlier chapters seemed to find fresh echoes in these last vivid encounters which end on the night of the World Cup final.

'Fascinating.' [The Times]