He got the biggest cheer in Sapporo on the weekend when England played Tonga in the Rugby World Cup, but it shouldn’t have come as a surprise because Eddie Jones is a hero in Japan.
There are four reasons why the England coach is such a cult figure in the Land of the Rising Sun. Firstly and obviously, he is half-Japanese. His father was an Australian soldier on occupation duty in Tokyo after World War II, while his Japanese mother was working as an interpreter when they met.
Secondly, he has a Japanese wife. Jones is married to Hiroko Jones, a Japanese woman whom he met while teaching at the International Grammar School in Sydney.
Thirdly, Japan is where the Australian got his professional coaching career off the ground. In 1995 he moved there to serve as an assistant coach at Tokai University and then at Suntory Sungoliath.
Jones would return to Japan 11 years later, after finding success with the Brumbies, Wallabies and South Africa, to coach Suntory again. In 2012 he would lead them to the Top League title.
And it was from here, after John Kirwan’s resignation, that he took the job of coaching the Japanese national team. The ambitious and hard-working coach took the Cherry Blossoms to new levels. He introduced a new playing style, that suited local players, and changed the reliance on overseas talent.
Jones revolutionised Japanese rugby and brought them into the 21st century. Under his coaching, Japan secured their first-ever wins in Europe, and later their first-ever victory over Wales. The 59-year-old wanted Japan to crack the top ten world rugby rankings, and the team did that in 2014 when they rose to ninth.
But his biggest feat came in the last World Cup. In 2015 Japan took on two-time world champions South Africa. No one gave them a hope in hell. But in one of the biggest upsets in rugby history, the Cherry Blossoms scored a try in the last minute to beat the Springboks 34-32. History was made and Jones achieved revered status.
In that tournament Japan went on to beat Samoa and the United States, becoming the first-ever nation to record third wins in the pool stage and fail to advance to the knockout stage. Jones’ place in Japanese culture was assured. And the respect goes both ways.
After England defeated Tonga in their World Cup opener, the coach spoken about how leading a team at a World Cup in Japan is “very special.”
“I love rugby and I love this team,” he told reporters. “So (I’m) pretty lucky. And then coming to Japan, we’re part of this historic World Cup, there’s never going to be anything like this again, and to be part of it you feel pretty special. Our team is really enjoying it. Guys are learning new things every day, so yeah, it’s very special.
“I thought it was a great day for rugby. We’re so appreciative of the Sapporo people and the way they’ve come to the game and engaged with rugby.”
Jones’ face and image has been hard to miss so far at this World Cup. The Australian has a number of endorsement deals at this World Cup, including for a gin called Roku, man bags made by the company Hunting World, as well as appearing in a short film to promote Sappor called Sappor Rugby Legends Journeys.
And if England get the final, and lift the William Webb Ellis trophy next month, expect a lot of local support for their pint-sized coach.