Felix Jones wasn’t quite sure what would come next. It was just after one o’clock in the early hours of Sunday morning, and the former Ireland international was concluding his final duties as an assistant coach of South Africa, his stint with the Springboks at an end after the securing of a second successive Rugby World Cup.
Pressed on his plans after a night of celebration, Jones thought for a moment. “To be honest, I’m not 100 per cent sure,” the former full-back eventually replied. “I’ll have to ask the team manager. I think there is a little bit of time off now and hopefully I get to go back to South Africa, experience the country again and enjoy a few days there.”
He has earned a few days to decompress. At 36, Jones is already a two-time World Cup winner. Forced into early retirement due to a neck injury in 2015 having been capped eleven times for his country and captained Munster, he rather fell into coaching, but soon established himself as a shrewd, hard-working asset. Rassie Erasmus lured him from Limerick just before the last World Cup; Jones now has two gold medals to show for his time in South Africa.
“It feels a little bit surreal now, I won’t lie,” Jones admitted. “It’s crazy. I’ve been looked after very well by many people: Axel [Anthony Foley], Jerry Flannery helped me a lot at the beginning and still now to this day. Rassie [Erasmus], Jacques [Nienaber], Joe [Schmidt]. There are many guys who helped me along the way. To be honest, I’ve just been given a leg-up by a lot of people.”
In January, he will embark on a new journey. Jones has agreed a deal to join Steve Borthwick’s England staff in January, with his exact role yet to be clarified. It may depend on the make-up of a coaching team in flux, with the versatile Jones happy to slot in wherever required. South Africa’s players describe him as a details man rarely away from an analysis tab on his laptop – he’ll fit in well with Borthwick’s codebreakers.
“I think when you look at the English side at the moment, there isn’t a single person who could fault the effort of the players,” Jones explained when asked what had attracted him to the England role. “That’s probably the most important thing; you can see hard work, you can see a never-say-die attitude.
“I think Steve has probably built the foundation of a squad that is willing to work and build. Clearly, in this World Cup, they’ve built a very strong foundation that they’re ready to kick on from. I think there’s a strong coaching team there, and a tight-knit coaching team. That really appealed to me.”
Jones is seen as a key addition to Borthwick’s team of coaches, a fresh new voice to add perspective and input. It certainly helps that he brings with him such a record of success, recognising how to foster and further a winning culture.
South Africa’s return to the top speaks volumes about the drive within a diverse squad. Jones hopes to impart some of that upon his new charges come January.
“I think that every team has a soul or a DNA or a style or a way of playing and the best teams tap into that,” Jones outlined. “I think every nation and every country has something. I think the goal is finding out how to make that more tangible.
“I think with South Africa, it’s not just the title. It’s bigger than that. There’s something bigger that they’re playing for that I can’t articulate. It’s not just winning the World Cup for them.
“I think it’s probably a reflection of life in South Africa. You can’t dwell on negatives there. You have to make a plan and find a way. It is that simple, and it’s taken a long time for me to comprehend.
“[England] is going to be a new challenge. I’m really looking forward to it. They’ve got some quality players. They’ve really had a great World Cup; on their night, they could have beaten South Africa in the semi-final. When you have the [winning] bug, it makes you want to do it again. It’s kind of an addiction. I can’t wait.”