England coach Eddie Jones will spend time in the US in 2021, Covid-19 allowing, in his consultancy role with the San Diego Legion in Major League Rugby, according to a co-owner of the American team.
“Obviously England remains Eddie’s priority,” Darren Gardner told the Guardian of Jones’s MLR deal, which was first reported by the BBC and confirmed by the Rugby Football Union.
“But he will be having input into our systems and processes that we’ve built. He’s going to spend some time in the US where he’ll get to interact with the coaches and the players and, from a community perspective, help us with some development of our academy and the things we’re doing there.”
San Diego made the US pro league’s second championship game in 2019, losing to the double-champion Seattle Seawolves. This year they were unbeaten at the top of the western conference and the overall 12-team ladder when the pandemic shuttered MLR with five games played.
Since then, the league has seen some uncertainty. The Glendale Raptors, a founding club, have withdrawn. The Dallas Jackals, a new team, have hired a coach and players while an unorthodox Los Angeles operation has made a splash by making itself the second MLR team named for a non-existent alcoholic drink.
Last week, an ambitious Hawaiian operation which touted backing from high-profile ex-All Blacks scrapped plans to enter in 2021, issuing a statement which cast doubt on the league’s financial viability and ability to cope with Covid-19.
On the field, San Diego have been ambitious, fielding the double World Cup-winning All Black centre Ma’a Nonu and signing the former England captain and flanker Chris Robshaw on a two-year deal.
“Chris is a huge supporter and advocate of Eddie,” Gardner said – notwithstanding that coach ended player’s England career, last year – “and he was aware that this is something we were gonna do. We’re all speaking regularly, he’s excited, we’ve made him a surfboard and we plan on getting him in the water as soon as he gets here.”
Jones is renowned as a fierce disciplinarian who gets quick results, having reached World Cup finals with Australia, South Africa (as an adviser) and England, and having masterminded Japan’s world-rocking shock of the Springboks in 2015. His work with San Diego will mostly be remote, Gardner said.
“Fortunately Covid, I think it’s got everybody in the position where remote interaction has become much easier. So they’ll obviously be a lot of that, the game reviews and other things” in a season Gardner thinks will kick-off on schedule in February, if possibly with Covid-related restrictions.
But Gardner said Jones would “also spend some time on the ground, getting to roll his sleeves up and get involved” with a squad led by relatively inexperienced co-coaches, former Scotland and Lions lock Scott Murray and Zack Test, once a wing with the USA 15s and sevens teams.
Gardner said: “Being able to have him with that sort of oversight and mentoring, guidance roles for coaches, and also from a systems development viewpoint, an academy and junior development point of view, fits in with what we’re trying to do with both Legion and US rugby more generally.
“Everybody would like the US to have a World Cup. And if we’re going to do that we need to be developing the talent coming through. We’ve made the systems and processes and the organizational structure is in place.”
The 2023 Rugby World Cup will be in France. World Rugby recently said it will name hosts for 2027 and 2031 at the same time. Australia is favourite for 2027. After the success of Japan 2019 that might open up 2031 for a developing nation such as the US. Russia is already in, its bid backed by Vladimir Putin.
USA Rugby, recently emerged from bankruptcy, is thought likely to announce plans imminently. It is run by Ross Young, general manager of three Rugby World Cups.
Gardner, who is Australian, played against Jones in Sydney back in the day. Gardner was a fly-half for Eastern Suburbs, more than happy to stay out of the way of Randwick’s famously fierce little hooker.
“That’s ancient history,” he says now, “but it certainly was a connection that I could pick up.”