Eddie Jones says rugby can learn to improve fitness from other sports – The Guardian

As he approaches the halfway mark of his contract as England’s head coach, Eddie Jones has spent the summer watching other sports and talking to coaches as he plots ways of improving the fitness levels of his players before the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Under Jones, England have risen from World Cup failures to second in the world rankings behind New Zealand. Part of their success has been down to their improved endurance, which has seen them finish matches strongly, a characteristic of the All Blacks, but their head coach is demanding more.

“We can be 20% fitter,” said Jones, who confirmed he would not be seeking an extension to his contract after the 2019 World Cup and that he had no interest in coaching the Lions in South Africa in 2021. “We have changed a team who in the last 20 minutes of the 2015 World Cup matches against Wales and Australia had a score against them of 18-3 and we can change them again and go up another level. We can and we will.

“No one knows how hard you can go. When Roger Bannister ran the four-minute mile, the medical texts said the body would disintegrate. It is about how far you can push the body and that is why we are aggressive in looking at other sports. It is about how hard you push and how you recover. There is a physical and a mental part.”

Jones watched the Tour de France, liaising with the Australian team Orica-Scott. “The cyclists ride 240km and then have a 45-minute cycle to their bus,” he said. “Imagine asking a rugby player to walk five kilometres to the dressing room after a game: they complain if they have to walk upstairs. Cyclists deal with that and staying in two-star hotels: their mindset is that they will put up with anything to get the job done.

“I am not saying rugby is soft in comparison, merely that we do not know how far we can go. The exciting thing for me is that we intend to find out how far. Rugby players stay in nice hotels and eat good food but, in terms of ability, we do not know what they can do. Usain Bolt is retiring after a career in which he achieved things no one thought could be done. As soon as you open up the mental capacity to think you can do it, you open up the physical capacity.

“I recently met a strength and conditioning coach at the University of Oregon. Their football team plays faster than anyone else and he is an expert in leg power. They have a very similar philosophy to how we train and it was very interesting to pick his brains and see what we could learn from them.”

Jones has a training camp with his players week, although none of England’s Lions will play a full part. “We potentially found six players on the Argentina tour who could get into the World Cup squad and I could not have been more pleased with the trip because we unfurled new talent and won the Tests, playing a good style of rugby,” he said. “The older guys were outstanding and I regret the column I wrote during the last World Cup about Chris Robshaw. He is world-class, just the most unselfish guy and a great role model for the team.”

For someone who has so much to say, Jones wastes few words on the Lions tour despite so many of his players contributing to the drawn series. “It was about looking at the English players,” he said. “The result was not material to me. Some of the players did really well and loved the big stage. I’ll name one, Anthony Watson, who went as a borderline selection and ended as one of the best wingers in the series.

“I want us to develop our defence this season so that we become more adaptable when the ball is fizzing around and we need to develop our unstructured attack, from kick returns and turnovers, finding space and scoring points. The number of offloads is increasing enormously and the game is breaking up.

“In Test rugby, one of the most significant statistics is line breaks and New Zealand make by far the most. They are tactically clear in what they do and they have got athletic players. They have worked out that the game is played in the first three phases and if they have not got anywhere then they tend to kick and chase, hoping to force a mistake to attack from. We are not where we want to be but we are going in the right direction.”

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