England raid Springboks for World Cup-winning coach Felix Jones

·4-min read
Felix Jones - England raid Springboks for World Cup-winning coach Felix Jones - Getty Images/Craig Mercer
Felix Jones - England raid Springboks for World Cup-winning coach Felix Jones - Getty Images/Craig Mercer

England head coach Steve Borthwick has pulled off a major coup by landing the highly rated Felix Jones, who was a key cog in South Africa’s 2019 World Cup triumph.

The former Ireland full-back will join Borthwick’s coaching ticket after the conclusion of this year’s World Cup and is likely to be responsible for heading up England’s attack despite his exact role remaining unspecified.

That means Borthwick remains on the hunt for an attacking consultant to guide England through the World Cup after the conclusion of Nick Evans’s secondment from Harlequins during the Six Nations. He also needs a full-time forwards coach to replace Richard Cockerill, who is joining Montpellier.

Recognised as one of the sharpest young minds in rugby, Jones’s attention to detail has been hailed by South Africa and Harlequins centre Andre Esterhuizen as second to none. The 35-year-old was tasked with plotting the Springboks’ kicking strategy that targeted Billy Vunipola in the World Cup final against England.

Jones will be reunited with Aled Walters, the current Leicester Tigers and former Springboks head of physical performance, who is joining England this summer. Walters replaces Jon Clarke, who Telegraph Sport understands is bound for Australia to head up Eddie Jones’s strength and conditioning programme for the Wallabies.

Jones, who won 13 Ireland caps, had to retire at just 28 on medical advice after suffering a neck injury, but rejoined Munster as a technical consultant. He then followed Rassie Erasmus to South Africa with the Springboks director of rugby describing his departure as “big loss”.

The Springboks’ loss, however, is England’s gain, according to Borthwick. “Our immediate focus is on preparation for the Rugby World Cup 2023,” Borthwick said. “We are continuing to build our programme to be in a position to compete to be world champions once again.

“At the same time, I also want to ensure we are preparing for long-term success for this England team and I am excited that a coach as talented as Felix is joining next year. Felix has been competing at the top of world rugby during his four years with South Africa and will bring invaluable experience to our set-up. Like with Aled Walters, Felix was an integral part of the team that won the Rugby World Cup in 2019.

South Africa's director of rugby Rassie Erasmus - Getty Images/Geoff Caddick
South Africa's director of rugby Rassie Erasmus - Getty Images/Geoff Caddick

“Together with Richard Wigglesworth and Kevin Sinfield, we are putting in place a coaching team who have spent their careers at the highest level competing for trophies. That is exactly what we want for this England team.”

With the arrival of assistant coach Richard Wigglesworth already confirmed, the RFU stated that recruitment is underway for a new forwards coach and additional specialist coaches to join England during their training camps this summer before the World Cup gets underway in France this September.

Ian Peel, the highly rated Saracens forwards coach, would appear to be a leading contender to succeed Cockerill, but director of rugby Mark McCall says the club are yet to receive an approach from the RFU. “Not that I am aware of,” McCall said.

“We are very lucky to have Ian at our club and he has got a number of years left on his contract here and I am hoping that he is happy doing the job that he is doing here. He does an unbelievable job here. Fingers crossed he will be here for a very long time.”

South Africa cited “personal reasons” for the departure of Jones, who joined as a technical consultant for the 2019 World Cup before becoming an assistant coach with a responsibility to liaise with Springboks based in Europe.

“It’s a big loss for the Springboks to lose a coach of Felix’s calibre,” Erasmus said. “While we are saddened by the decision, we know how difficult it was for him to make that call and we fully understand the reasons.

“He’s been an asset to the Springboks in the last few years and the way he has evolved in his role and willingly took on additional responsibilities to ensure that the team functioned as optimally as possible in his areas of expertise, has been admirable.

“We know Felix will remain fully committed to the Springboks’ cause and give everything as we attempt to defend our Rugby World Cup title in France, and hopefully we can make it a special and memorable send-off for him later this year.”

Meanwhile, former England head coach Jones is also busy recruiting familiar faces with Clarke set to come on board to get the Wallabies in shape for the World Cup. Clarke, a former Great Britain rugby league player, was one of the few members of support staff to survive the entirety of Jones’s tenure as England head coach. He stayed on for the Six Nations under Borthwick who pointedly complained about England’s fitness levels.