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‘They get a free shot’: England rugby coach Eddie Jones on the pitfalls of social media

Throughout his coaching career, Eddie Jones has heeded advice he was given by former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson.

“He just said: ‘Don’t read anything,'” Jones, head coach of England’s rugby team since 2015, tells CNN Sport.

“I really don’t read any commentary on the game. I just refuse to read it, I don’t take it into consideration at all.”

It’s perhaps a piece of advice that has contributed to the feisty, head-strong persona that Jones has built up on the way to becoming one of rugby’s most recognizable coaches.

It’s also a message that he may be passing on to some of his players, particularly when it comes to what’s written about them online and on social media.

“We had a young player the other day … a bloke sends him a message saying: ‘You were the reason why you lost to Scotland,'” explains Jones, referring to his team’s defeat by Scotland during the opening weekend of this year’s Six Nations.

“(It was) just out of the blue. And then he started sending difficult comments to him. It made the young guy angry.

“You’re trying to get the players to understand that the only voices that really matter are the voices within the team, the noise within the team, not the noise outside the team. But it’s difficult for these young guys.”

Wales internationals George North and Alex Cuthbert have both spoken about the impact of abuse on social media — the former saying it’s something he “deal(s) with on a daily basis” — while ex-England international James Haskell has called for users to have to provide a passport number in order to set up an account.

It’s an issue that persists across many sports. In a report by football anti-discrimination group Kick It Out, social media was identified as a “battleground of hate” as fans have been kept away from stadiums amid the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the report did note a reduction in complaints relating to abuse towards footballers on social media between the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons, believed to be due to increased awareness around reporting abuse.

Earlier this month, Instagram announced tougher measures to combat online abuse on its platform, including further controls to reduce the abuse people see in their direct messages (DMs).

The platform also told CNN that between July and September 2020, it took action on 6.5 million pieces of hate speech, including in DMs, 95% of which was found before anyone had reported it.

“I think ultimately it has to be about the individual coping with it, because social media is not going to change and there are going to be cowards out there that send derogatory comments on players,” says Jones, who was speaking as an ambassador for Umbro.

“I heard a great podcast with Ron Adams, the Golden State Warriors assistant coach, and he equated social media to the people who used to write on the wall in toilets. And it is — they get a free shot.”

Jones’ coaching career has seen him land international jobs with Australia, Japan, England and as an assistant with South Africa.

The 61-year-old has coached at three World Cup finals, most recently in 2019. His time with England is his longest stint with a team, overseeing three Six Nations titles in five years and 17 consecutive wins between 2016 and 2017.

There have been setbacks, too, including a string of defeats in 2018, the disappointment of losing the Rugby World Cup final against South Africa and, most recently, a first home defeat against Scotland since 1983.

READ: Scottish rugby legend Doddie Weir on battling MND with a smile

According to Jones, it’s the range of emotions he’s experienced throughout his career that has kept him in the game for so long.

“I still get anxious now. And I think if I didn’t get anxious now, I’d give away coaching,” he says.

“You’re also excited, too, because you know if they play well, you’ve been able with the players to create something good for that week. So it’s that mixture, you basically bounce from one to the other.

“I think the older you get, the more you’re able to keep more even keeled about it in terms of leading up to the game and post the game, which is also massively important.”

When it comes to coaches he admires, Jones singles out Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Bruce Arians, who has just won his first Super Bowl as head coach aged 68, among others.

“You’ve got Steve Kerr who is doing a great job at the Golden State Warriors,” says Jones. “And then in football, you’ve got Pep (Guardiola) — I think what he’s done with Man City … come back and play some fantastic football is a hallmark of a great manager.

“I’m in awe of those football managers in the Premier League — the pressure they’re under and the consistency of the games they play.

“You look at Jurgen Klopp at the moment,” added Jones, referring to the Liverpool managerr. “Four weeks ago, he was the greatest football manager in the world. And now they’ve lost (several) games and people are saying to him: ‘Do you need a break?'”

Among the standout games from Jones’ England side are a 32-20 win over an in-form Ireland in Dublin and a World Cup semifinal victory against the All Blacks, both in 2019.

The “ultimate motivation,” Jones says, is to coach a team “that’s impossible to play against — that whenever you have the ball the opposition can’t get the ball off you … When they get the ball, you put so much pressure on them, you get the ball back.”

He adds: “Imagine coaching a game of rugby where you do that for 80 minutes. The great teams like the All Blacks were probably always able to do that for certain periods of the game, but not for the full 80.”

Itoje for Lions captain?

As England coach, Jones has overseen the development of a number of star players, notably Maro Itoje, to whom he handed an England debut in 2016.

Itoje’s performances since have seen him come into contention to captain the British and Irish Lions — a team put together every four years comprising of the best players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales — against South Africa later this year.

It would be a notable appointment as Itoje, who has Nigerian parentage, would become the Lions’ first Black captain.

“I think that’ll be a real step forward because rugby has been quite a stereotypical white, public school game,” says Jones.

“But you can see our team now, I think at the World Cup in 2019 at least 30% of our players were mixed race. And you can see that the national team in England particularly is reflecting society’s diversity.

“If you saw that in the Lions I think that’s another great step forward.”

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