Sport

Jones' focus solely on England as Japan reunion looms

England coach Eddie Jones has no intention of getting sentimental when his side face 2019 World Cup hosts Japan at Twickenham on Saturday despite guiding the Asian nation to their greatest rugby union triumph.

England coach Jones will face the Japan side he memorably led to a stunning 2015 World Cup victory over South Africa
England coach Jones will face the Japan side he memorably led to a stunning 2015 World Cup victory over South Africa (AFP)

England coach Eddie Jones has no intention of getting sentimental when his side face 2019 World Cup hosts Japan at Twickenham on Saturday despite guiding the Asian nation to their greatest rugby union triumph.

Jones was in charge of Japan when they beat South Africa 34-32 in Brighton at the 2015 World Cup in England -- arguably the biggest upset in the history of the sport.

But Jones' connections to Japan run far deeper than coaching stints with both the Brave Blossoms and the Suntory club.

The Australia-born Jones is the son of a Japanese-American mother, while his wife is Japanese.

However, Jones has insisted both he and Japan had moved on since their memorable triumph three years ago.

"Japan are progressing really nicely. The team has regenerated -- there are only five or six players left from the team that I coached and they're the outstanding players like Michael Leitch and Kenki Fukuoka," Jones said.

"I think Japan are benefiting from playing Super Rugby. Previously Japanese sides were happy to get beaten, they were the Brave Blossoms, but now this new generation of Japanese players believe they can win and that makes them a much stronger team."

As for his wider feelings towards Japan and Japanese rugby, Jones added: "It doesn't disappear but I've never, by nationality, called myself Japanese because I was brought up as an Australian.

"Japan was part of our family, and obviously marrying a Japanese, having a dog that only speaks Japanese, it's a big part of the family.

"But this is a serious Test match and you don't allow those things to cloud your thoughts."

Ringing the changes

Jones has made 11 changes to the side that suffered an agonising 16-15 loss at home to world champions New Zealand last weekend, with powerful Fiji-born wing Joe Cokanasiga -- who arrived in England aged just three -- given a Test debut.

"He's just been playing consistently well for Bath," said Jones of Cokanasiga, who turned 21 on Thursday.

"We were always going to play him in November. This week is the right opportunity, and he's going to be tested."

George Ford comes off the bench to captain the side in what will be the fly-half's 50th Test with Owen Farrell and Dylan Hartley, England's co-captains so far this month, now both among the replacements.

Jones has repeatedly stressed he wanted this week to mirror England's campaign at the World Cup, where a four-day turnaround between their opening two matches against Tonga and the United States could lead to line-up changes.

"We've spoken about how we always play with a squad of 23 and we mean it," he said. "That's what we need to have at the World Cup, people who can adapt from being a starter and then being a finisher (replacement).

"One of the interesting stats to come out of the New Zealand game, you know what the score was in the last 20 minutes? 0-0. How many teams have done that to New Zealand?

"It just shows the quality of our finishers. Our guys competed right to the death, which gives us confidence going forward."

Japan will again be led by Leitch, their skipper against the Springboks three years ago.

Jamie Joseph, the Japan coach, named a much-changed side from the one that put up a gutsy showing in a 69-31 defeat by his native New Zealand a fortnight ago.

"It's the best team that's available," said Joseph, with Japan paying their 'amateur' players under £14 (2,000 Yen) per day, whereas their England counterparts earn £25,000 per match.

Saturday's fixture will be just the second Test between the two countries, with England having thrashed Japan 60-7 at the inaugural 1987 World Cup.

And Jones was adamant his wife's loyalties were as undivided as his own, saying: "She's English. She said she'll get very upset if anyone asks her. You don't want to upset my wife."