TOKYO (AFP) – England rugby coach Eddie Jones has turned to a psychologist and group therapy to help his players banish their demons as they chase World Cup glory in Japan.
After their 2015 flop, when they became the first host nation to exit at the pool stage, England are a different beast under Jones, but the meticulous Aussie has brought in countrywoman Corinne Reid to provide an emotional boost.
“Eddie has definitely got the baggage out,” said England number eight Billy Vunipola.
“It was something that was very important to us and has probably freed us up a lot in terms of our relationships,” he added, noting how intense life inside England’s World Cup bubble can be. “Being within the confines of England rugby, a lot of us are very precious. There were a few handbags thrown around but it was really good.
“It’s really hard but men don’t know how to talk about their feelings – it took us a while but we got there in the end. (Reid) gave us the platform to do it.”
England crashed out of the tournament four years ago under Stuart Lancaster after slumping to successive defeats by Wales and Australia.
Vunipola insisted that the players would use that 2015 debacle as a motivating force in Japan, where they have started with big wins over Tonga (35-3) and the United States (45-7).
“We don’t want to feel like that again,” said the Saracens back row.
“Everything turned on its head. We’ve been hurt before and we don’t want to be like that again. That’s driving us on as much as anything else.”
English teams have a mixed track record when it comes to therapy – notably when former England football manager Glenn Hoddle experimented by asking spiritualist Eileen Drewery to talk to his players, bemusing many of them.
But Reid comes with impeccable credentials having helped the Australian women’s hockey team, the Hockeyroos, win Olympic gold in 1996 and 2000.
Vunipola revealed that England’s no-holds-barred honesty sessions in Japan – where they have been enjoying soaks in the traditional hot springs after training – have strengthened relationships between players.
“As a group we’ve talked about things that we’ve never been able to put out there and it’s brought us closer together,” he said.
“Being brutally honest can hurt a few feelings,” added Vunipola.
“But this is the first team that is willing to go deeper than just say ‘I think you should have hit this ruck’ – there’s a lot more respect in that changing room for each other.
“It’s partly about just listening to each other, caring about another person’s opinion… rather than going back to your room and having a little moan to your mate.”