The genius that is Jones

2007-09-19 14:42

Chris Hewitt

The nation is jubilant and rightly so.

Seldom have the Boks delivered such a cultured and mature performance as that which dispatched World Cup "chump-ions" England last Friday evening.

South Africa celebrated 36-0 because it confirmed the Boks' status as genuine World Cup contenders.

South Africa celebrated 36-0 because of the dogged discipline, defence and counter-attacking menace exhibited by Jake White's knights.

But mostly, South Africa celebrated 36-0 because of the incredible potency of half-backs Fourie du Preez and Butch James.

Du Preez has no peer currently in international rugby, a status enjoyed for at least the past year.

But where his consistency, defensive ability and knack of reading play have previously hogged the headlines, it was his sheer attacking menace on Friday that spawned the bucketloads of purple prose that have followed.

And that is in no small way due to Eddie Jones.

Du Preez has always controlled games, always marshaled them, but seldom has he ripped the heart out of the opposition.

But as the architect of all three Bok tries on Friday, he did even more. He virtually ended the World Cup challenge of the defending champions.

Jones's influence was clear in Du Preez's newfound aggression with ball in hand, his lateral running from the rucks ala George Gregan and his ruthless counter-attack.

Du Preez has always been recognised as a thinking man's footballer. His reserved status and tendency to shy away from the spotlight has not hid an analytical mind and tactical innovator.

In Jones he has met a kindred spirit. And the combination has proven devastating.

Du Preez has not been the only beneficiary of Jones's input, however.

Butch James has never played a better Test than what he delivered on Friday night. Targeted by the Poms pre-match, labeled as no more than a fourth loose forward, James delivered a performance rich in subtlety, control and composure.

He was his usual physical self on defence, canceling out the experienced Mike Catt who suffered from England coach Brian Ashton's philosophy of "playing what's in front of you."

Catt tried to play what was in front of him. Unfortunately for him it was a flyhalf in the form of his life.

Again Jones has to be credited.

Where James has always brought an aggressive edge to the Bok backline, now he has shown the dexterity to manipulate matches.

His kicking out of hand was pinpoint, his passing innovative and his calling of the moves near perfect.

A great coach once told me that no coach can improve a player by more than 33%. That's the limit, the rest is up to him.

But in the cases of Du Preez and James, that extra 33% has taken good footballers with national reputations and made them world beaters.

Long may it continue... mate.

  • Chris is Chief Rugby Writer at Sports Illustrated and a former SAB Rookie Sports Journalist of the Year.

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