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Jones ramps up the mind games to ease heat on stars

England v New Zealand, Rugby World Cup Semi-Final,Yokahama, Saturday, 9.00am

Old master: Eddie Jones is playing a clever game with the media
Old master: Eddie Jones is playing a clever game with the media
Steve Hansen
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

The emperor was in town, and the rain too, but New Zealand's Steve Hansen and his England counterpart Eddie Jones were still capable of pulling in the crowds in Tokyo ahead of Saturday's World Cup semi-final.

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It wasn't ever likely to be long before the subject of mind games reared its head. Can they really have any influence on a sporting contest at this level? Between what is likely the two best rugby sides on the planet?

"Sometimes you're better not to bother going there and sometimes you are," noted Hansen.

"Eddie will decide whether he wants to go there and I've already decided what I want to do. There's no point is there?"

Those that came for some sparring were not to go without though.

This is just the second time that Jones has gone head-to-head with Hansen in their current roles, something the latter was quick to pin on the northern hemisphere sides and last summer's torpedoing of World Rugby's Nations Championship plans.

"I think South Africa is always going to be our biggest rival because of all the history that comes with it and because we play each other so regularly," said Hansen.

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"I think we've played England once in the last five years, so it's hard to build a rivalry when you don't play each other.

"If we could get the Six Nations to come on board for a global season, we'd be able to do that. Once they do that, then they're starting to think about the game rather than themselves. There's a headline for you."

The two-time World Cup winner is normally a pretty sound judge of what it takes to make it above the fold, and on any other day he may have been correct, but he likely didn't need to check his phone to know what way Jones was going at his simultaneous presser.

The Australian was in vintage form on a day when he unexpectedly appeared on the media schedule alongside his captain Owen Farrell. At one stage it was even suggested he may be planning on naming his team some 48 hours early.

Spies, the Kiwi media, and a framing of the country with the most rugby players in the world as an underdog tale against a big, bad, unstoppable machine, as usual it was a case of press record on the tape recorder and watch him go. Sat in the Disneyland hotel where Ireland had prepared for their own ill-fated meeting with the All Blacks, it was just a surprise he didn't have a cut-out Mickey Mouse too.

"There was definitely someone in the apartment block (across from the training ground) filming, it might have been a Japanese fan," Jones accused for starters.

Are such tactics, that he himself used to enact, unethical?

"Don't care, mate. Don't care," he said, having been the one who brought it up in the first place. "We knew from the start that they were filming and it doesn't change anything we do.

"You just don't need to do it anymore. You can watch everyone's training on YouTube.

"We have two security guards - Prince Harry's and the ex-Prime Minister's. Lovely blokes."

Not dissimilar to Hansen, the unconventional nature in which Jones usually conducts his media saw him asked the inevitable question - what does he hope to achieve? A New Zealand response?

"Someone (would have) to ask questions, because the New Zealand media doesn't," he chuckled slyly. "You guys are just fans with keyboards, so someone's got to ask them some questions.

"The English media, one week ago I was going to get sacked. We couldn't play. So we deal with a completely different situation."

It was a tour de force of agenda setting. In a week where, as Ireland showed, the mental strain of taking on such a beast with so much on the line can be wearying, few were to be talking yesterday about his players.

England's defence coach John Mitchell, a Kiwi who has been a part of Jones' set-up for the past year, should make for a good judge of the mood of his homeland. Does Hansen, as Jones suggests, get an easy ride?

"He probably deserves an easy ride," Mitchell said. "He has been the most successful Test coach in the last two World Cups and is under pressure to do a third one.

"I can only go on family living back there and it is very much New Zealanders expect the All Blacks to win. And it is usually a trauma if they don't, but it is also they have got their own legacy to uphold and sustain. They are a team of excellence and why they have been so successful.

"(But) I think Steve has been in that post a long time and he has been extremely successful. I think probably the New Zealand media have become very comfortable with Steve's personality and the way he communicates. He is not too different to Eddie in the sense that he actually has a bit of fun."

Fun for us too. When Ireland's own World Cup post-mortem seems sure to run and run, who couldn't do with a laugh?

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