As Eddie Jones attempted to fire his English squad up with a series of mistruths before getting on his British Airways flight, Wallabies halfback Nic White turned on the charm offensive ahead of next month’s three-match Test series.
After unsurprisingly firing the first shots down under over the weekend, Jones touched down in Perth on Wednesday as his English squad arrived in four groups over three days.
“Davie Rennie’s sides traditionally want to play on the front foot, so it’s going to be about who wins the front foot,” the Australian said after naming his 36-man squad.
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“There will be really hard, flat tracks and abusive crowds. They are in the face, the Australians. The media are going to be in our face – they are aggressive.
“It’s a really aggressive environment. You can learn so much about your players and your squad on those tours and we’ve missed that.
“I’m sure it’ll be fun. For Australians, it’s the biggest tour and it’s going to be huge. It’s going to be fantastic for rugby and it’s going to be fantastic for our squad.”
Jones wasn’t wrong about the series being the biggest for the Wallabies.
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But an aggressive media? An abusive crowd? They are laughable accusations from a man who left his former Randwick teammate Michael Cheika in a spin in 2016 following their three-nil humiliation of him.
White, who is likely to wear the No.9 jersey in Perth on July 2 and is the loudest person on any field he plays on, however wouldn’t dare try and provoke Jones.
“If there’s one guy I definitely won’t be getting into a battle with, It’s Eddie Jones,” White said.
“You know they ask you that question, who would you love to have dinner with? He pops to mind straightaway to pick his brains from him, he’s obviously a mastermind.
“The bloke’s been coaching international rugby for how long? When he talks everybody listens.
“His name in World Rugby carries so much weight. When he talks, you should listen, because he’s seen it all. He’s had success at every level. And he’s obviously a very, very good coach.
“It’s not a battle I’m going to get in with him. I’d love to pick his brain from him because obviously, he’s seen it all. And he’s a very smart guy and a clever operator and had a lot of success.
“He’s someone I admire, really.”
Jones’ record is better than any international coach against the Wallabies.
The former Wallabies coach holds an unbeaten eight-match winning streak over his home nation, including a 2019 World Cup quarter-final victory over Cheika’s side.
But the four-time World Cup coach, who won with the Springboks as Jake White’s right-hand man in 2007, arrives in Australia under all sorts of pressure.
After back-to-back underwhelming Six Nations campaigns, Jones once again survived calls for his head during the English autumn.
Those calls sounded again when the French-dominated Barbarians made a mockery of his English XV side missing the majority of its first-choice stars over the weekend, winning 52-21.
Sir Clive Woodward, who won the World Cup over Jones’ Wallabies in 2003, led the charge, saying England were being held back by the Australian.
“Giving Eddie Jones the keys to Twickenham is holding England back now in so many ways,” Woodward wrote in a Daily Mail column.
“But no one knows what the best England team is and this seeps into the players’ mindset,” he continued. “England have gone from close to the top of the world in Japan 2019 to, at best, a workmanlike team who few respect.”
Yet, just as he relaunched England with a three-match series against the Springboks, Jones is viewing the tour against the Wallabies as the start of their World Cup runway.
He has recalled the rejuvenated Vunipola brothers – Mako and Billy – as well as recalled veteran halfback Danny Care to compliment his Harlequins halves teammate Marcus Smith. All three men were pivotal in 2016.
Another was Owen Farrell, who, in the absence of Manu Tuilagi, looks set to play at inside center just as he did in 2016 outside George Ford.
But Farrell, whose boot was the difference in 2016, could yet lose the captaincy.
Farrell took over from Dylan Hartley ahead of the Springboks series in 2018, but with the playmaker no guarantee to start at the 2023 World Cup because of Smith’s emergence and Tuilagi’s importance, forwards Courtney Lawes or Tom Curry could take over on a permanent basis having filled in during the Six Nations.
White, meanwhile, backed Care to succeed upon his recall from a four-year exile and said he was expecting the Quins halfback to start alongside Smith.
“Obviously, that makes sense, doesn’t it with Harlequins and the success they’ve had in the last two years?” White said.
“I’ve been watching a fair bit of Prem in the last couple of years and Marcus Smith has come on leaps and bounds, maturing as a player with that experience in the saddle and to have a guy there inside him that he’s super comfortable with. probably makes a lot of sense.
“But I’m sure (Bristol halfback) Harry Randle’s doing a pretty good job there too. And they’re very similar.
“That combination certainly helps him in that 9-10 area.”