Irish Abroad

Irishman Felix Jones will be involved in the World Cup final at the age of 32

The former Munster coach was brought on board by Springboks boss Rassie Erasmus.

LAST UPDATE | 29 Oct 2019

FELIX JONES’ PERSONALITY meant he was always likely to have something to offer the game after injury cruelly forced him to retire from playing at the age of just 28.

He was a player who worked relentlessly hard to unearth the tiny details that could help him to produce better performances. Jones worked tirelessly to analyse his game and pick out ways to improve.

The Dublin native was fascinated by how the various parts of his teams fitted together to deliver success.

felix-jones 32-year-old Jones will be involved in the World Cup final on Saturday. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Even away from rugby, he’s interested in how great structures are the sum of their parts. One of Jones’ final-year projects in his degree in Classics and Geography at UCD was about the development of Greek columns.

Jones had plenty of athletic talent, of course, but his success as a player was as much based on his work ethic and utterly maximising his potential. Now, his burgeoning coaching career is founded on the same traits.

The 32-year-old is currently helping South Africa to prepare for Saturday’s World Cup final against England, having been brought on board by head coach Rassie Erasmus just before the tournament.

Contrary to widespread belief, Jones’ role with the Boks is not that of attack coach.

Jones is instead carrying out detailed analysis on opposition individuals and defensive structures, providing Erasmus and his fellow former Munster coach Jacques Nienaber with a greater level of information about who and what they will be facing.

The Springboks players, many of whom probably didn’t know who Jones was when he joined the set-up, have been impressed by his work-rate and passion for the game, as well as his technical knowledge.

Erasmus has praised Jones for his in-depth contributions before the games against Italy and Wales, whose players the Irishman had knowledge of from his own time as part of Munster’s coaching team, a stint that ended in June after he turned down a new contract.

Jones would not claim any big role in the Boks’ progress to this World Cup final nor is he seeking any praise. Indeed, repeated visits to the South African team hotels in Japan during this World Cup have left those seeking interviews with Jones empty-handed so far.

rassie-erasmus-and-felix-jones-ahead-of-the-game Jones with Boks head coach Rassie Erasmus. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

He hasn’t been spotted away from match days – when he sits behind Erasmus in the coaching box, where they have exchanged a fair few high fives – and it was always unlikely that Jones would agree to speak publicly.

He has little interest in the media side of things, instead caring solely for the rugby. Jones is probably also aware that Irish journalists would ask questions about Joe Schmidt’s frustration him joining to the South African camp and whether he had offers to stay in Ireland.

What happens next for Jones remains to be seen but to be involved in a World Cup final as a 32-year-old is a fine achievement.

Having started rugby with Seapoint RFC in Dublin, Jones stayed loyal to the club all the way through to U20 level, when he played dual-status with Old Belvedere. A highly-promising fullback, Jones won the 2007 U20 Six Nations with Ireland and went on to make his senior debut for Leinster before a move to Munster in 2009.

Jones became part of the furniture in Limerick and was a key player until a neck injury forced him into retirement in 2015, also ending his Ireland career after 13 caps, eight of those under Schmidt.

Jones moved on to study a Master’s degree in Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology in UL but coaching was already piquing his interest.

He visited Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins and fellow Premiership club Northampton to see how their set-ups were run, while Anthony Foley was welcoming in inviting him into Munster, where Jones contributed informally to a few training sessions, impressing the players.

When Rassie Erasmus took over in 2016, Munster moved to bring Jones on board full-time and he signed a contract as technical coach, which Erasmus then upgraded to backs and attack coach on a new two-year deal in 2017.

Jones also spent a week with Schmidt’s Ireland in Japan in the summer of 2017, having maintained a relationship with the national team head coach, who was encouraging of his development as a coach, partly explaining why Schmidt was frustrated that Jones ended up with the Boks, who Ireland could possibly have met at this World Cup.

joe-schmidt-and-felix-jones Jones with Joe Schmidt in Cardiff in 2015. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Former Munster centre Jason Holland, who is now with the Hurricanes in New Zealand, has been another sounding board for Jones.

Erasmus departed back to South Africa in December 2017 and almost immediately tried to lure Jones across, an offer Jones rebuffed. The Springboks boss was in touch several other times but Jones stayed loyal to Munster until he eventually opted to leave at the end of last season, following much speculation that the province was looking for a new senior coach to oversee its attack.

Many Munster fans were critical of Jones’ coaching of the Munster attack but it’s worth highlighting that he was implementing game plans designed and dictated by Erasmus and his successor Johann van Graan.

Certainly, Jones shares some of the responsibility for any shortcomings in Munster’s attack on the big days during his time in the role of backs and attack coach, but assistant coaches are often working with tactics decided by the head coaches.

Jones had been offered a contract extension by Munster, who were disappointed to lose him, but clearly he felt it was time to move on.

Erasmus finally got his man ahead of this World Cup, with Jones joining after assistant coach Swys de Bruin stepped down in August.

Now, at the age of just 32, Jones will be involved in the biggest game in the sport. 

It will be fascinating to see what the future holds for the Irishman but for now, he most likely has his head buried in a laptop looking for any of those crucial details that could make a subtle difference for the Boks.

-First published today at 09.25

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