Rugby Union


England coach Eddie Jones recruiting Jonny Wilkinson would be masterstroke

Recruiting former stars to specialist roles will enable head coach to define what he wants in certain parts of the game, writes Sir Ian McGeechan.

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If Eddie Jones can persuade Jonny Wilkinson to join his coaching team, as he is clearly trying to do, then it would only be a good thing in my view. It appears that Jones might quite like the former Australian flanker George Smith to be involved too, and that would be hugely beneficial as well, even if Wasps might have to grant the odd afternoon off for him to do so.

There is no doubt that England have to get the breakdown right. It has definitely been one of the areas where their work has not been well defined in recent years. Smith would come in as a fresh voice but you would also have that association with a name as well. A technical and tactical approach can become so clear when you can associate it with a name.

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Wilkinson could be such a good sounding board for the five-eighths, George Ford and Owen Farrell. Ford has a lot of potential but one of his weaknesses is that he sometimes struggles to see how a game is evolving.

In terms of a kicking and positional game at 10, Wilkinson can in particular help Ford hugely: on how to make sure your forwards are in the right place, even if they are under pressure. He is the ideal person to do this, and not just because of the obvious respect he commands for what he has done in the game. There have been so few players who have had the knowledge that Wilkinson possesses of how to vary a tactical kicking game under pressure.

Stuart Lancaster did use Wilkinson on a couple of occasions last year and I know that his input went down very well with the players. So it should be no surprise that Jones has sought him out too. Wilkinson's mindset was, and is, so important. He could be almost over the top sometimes but he was just so driven and so dedicated. In training he was always of the mind that he would do something even if it meant that it made only the smallest difference.

He was the same in a game situation. He had that inner desire to make sure he delivered. He would always do something, however small, to make sure that his opponents did not gain any sort of advantage.


I only worked with Wilkinson on the 2005 British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand, and I think even he himself will admit that he was nowhere near his best then. After the Rugby World Cup victory in 2003 he had so many injuries and setbacks that they were bound to have an effect.

I think it was only when he went to Toulon in 2009 that he really rediscovered his form again, and I also think he learnt some hugely valuable lessons there about himself and about how he could lead a rugby team. He became an outstanding captain there in the lead he gave to the host of world-class players around him. He changed Toulon and was a massive influence in them becoming the force in Europe they have become, simply by emphasising how all the hard and hidden work can be so important in producing top-class team performances. He turned their talent into a team effort.

All of this experience will help Wilkinson hugely as a coach. He will know all about the technical and tactical stuff but he will also now have the ability to convey the message of how all the hard work can reap benefits. The key thing is that he knows the difference between just wanting to win and having the absolute desire to win.

It was interesting talking to him during the RWC when we were working together on television and then listening to his assessments on the various games. He was so clear in how he viewed the games, in understanding what the players needed to do to win. And you could really see the disappointment he felt when England could not deliver as he expected and as he thought they would. It was then that you could see why he probably should play some part in the future, however small. And I think Wilkinson will be keen to get involved. He does some coaching at Toulon and while I am unsure whether he would ever want to do coaching full time, I would think that he would want to pass on his expertise.

Jones can be very cute in how he uses people such as Wilkinson and Smith. He can define the elements and framework of what he wants in certain parts of the game, in other words the tactical kicking and the breakdown, by the people he is using. Because they will not be there all the time, the players will not have any greyness in the message. There will be total clarity because they will come in and deliver and then the players will have to crack on with Jones pulling the strings.

I like what Jones is doing in that regard, especially as he is going to run the attack himself. I am probably a little biased because I always wanted that when I was head coach. I always wanted to be in charge of the team's attacking play and I also wanted a big input on the breakdown work because I knew that if you got the breakdown right, then everything around your attack starts to take good shape.

Jones obviously has two full-time coaches alongside him in Steve Borthwick, who will look after the forwards, and Paul Gustard, who will look after the defence, both of whom he knows and trusts, and he will have Ian Peel in to do some part-time scrummaging work, so he is not going to have a big staff. And that is the easiest way to have a clarity of message.

It goes back to the crux of my coaching ethos: that you must aim to get the players performing world-class basics. If there is a clarity and trust in the way that message is being given, then you will easily see that there is an accelerated progress from the players in that regard.

I saw Gustard at the Rugby Writers' dinner last Monday and we talked about just that, about how it is best to keep the message simple and clear, and I think he will do that.

There is such a difference between coaching an international side and a club side. Because of the limited time available, there cannot be the same level of detail at international level, and the greatest skill there is not to over-coach. You must not do an extra half an hour on the training field just to satisfy yourself. You must only do what is right for the players. That is actually a big call for an international coach to make, but you do need to learn that lesson.

It was certainly the biggest lesson I learnt. There must be a clear message that is repeated time and time again, because if you want to mess up a team, then just give them 30 options to take in a game. Under pressure they will not be able to cope with that. I do not expect this England team to be burdened with such complexities.

Telegraph, London