Old rivals England’s Eddie Jones and Steve Hansen of New Zealand are full of respect for each other

Eddie Jones
Eddie Jones
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Eddie Jones and Steve Hansen have begun the countdown to Saturday’s monumental World Cup semi-final by killing each other with kindness.

The respective head coaches of England and New Zealand share a long-standing friendship and despite their expertise in pre-match mind games, there has been no attempt to dispense with niceties.

Jonny May

Jonny May

Instead, Jones has spoken of a respect for the mastermind of New Zealand’s 2015 World Cup triumph that he believes reflects the special values of the game.

“To start with, Steve’s a good bloke. That’s number one. Secondly, he’s got a great record,” Jones said.

“Just look at his record – Super Rugby with the Crusaders when we first started coaching against each other, followed by Wales followed by New Zealand. You don’t get a better record than that.

“Having respectful relationships is massively important in the game. You just have to see this tournament to know what it’s done because the things that have happened don’t happen in other sports.

Steve Hansen

Steve Hansen

“You’ve got the Canadian and Namibian blokes cleaning up the ground. Could you imagine Ronaldo or Messi doing that if Barcelona or Real Madrid gets a wash?

“It’s a different game. And that’s why I think relationships with players, with coaches, with fans is so important in our game.”

Hansen followed suit by praising Jones’s success in transforming England from a team that endured a chastening group exit at the last World Cup into genuine title contenders four years later.

The 60-year-old also notes his rival’s extraordinary drive by referencing the stroke he had in 2013 when Japan coach.

“Eddie’s done a fantastic job with England – they’ve got a harder edge about them now,” Hansen said.

“Eddie’s been part of a winning World Cup team with South Africa (2007), he’s had the disappointment of losing to England when he was coaching Australia (2003) but to get to the final is being successful anyway.

“He’s got the ability to understand what’s coming and he’ll share those with his management, coaching and playing groups.

“I respect his passion for the game – he loves the game. He’s got a work ethic second to none. He put himself in hospital, he’d worked that hard.

“He just loves the game and anyone who loves the game gets my support.”

Hansen, Jones, Wales’ Warren Gatland and former Australia head coach Michael Cheika have all been sparring partners at times over the years, but the All Blacks’ current boss insists any enmity is never genuine.

“It’s a game of footy, it’s not life or death. It’s like when you play against your brother or sister. It’s important, but it’s not life threatening,” Hansen said.

“It’s definitely closer than you guys perceive. You see some of the banter which is really only to help promote the game as being ‘cor, these guys don’t like each other’, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Rugby’s a special game and those of us who have been around for long enough understand that the game is bigger than everybody else.

“One of the greatest things about the game is the camaraderie that you get, not only in your own team but from being involved in a contest, sharing those moments and then moving on to the next one.”

England expect to face New Zealand with a fully fit squad after delivering a positive bulletin on Jonny May and Jack Nowell.

In a huge lift to Jones’s Webb Ellis Trophy hopefuls, May and Nowell are on course to recover from knocks in time for the last four showdown at International Stadium Yokohama.

May suffered a minor hamstring injury during the closing stages of the 40-16 quarter-final victory over Australia, in which he celebrated his 50th cap by running two first-half tries.

Nowell made his comeback from an ankle complaint against Argentina more than two weeks ago only to damage a hamstring, forcing him to sit out the four-try demolition of the Wallabies.

“Jonny’s bouncing around this (Monday) morning. He has a small twinge and we’ll assess where he is a little bit later today,” assistant coach Neal Hatley said.

“He’s in really good spirits, moving well, and we expect Jack to be fit for selection as well. It’s fantastic where we are – all 31 being available for selection at the end of the week.”

England have also been boosted by Mako Vunipola’s return from the hamstring injury that limited him to 17 minutes of rugby since May 11 until he came on as a replacement against Argentina.

“We were unbelievably impressed by Mako. He continues to go from strength to strength,” Hatley said.

“And he needs to because Ellis Genge and Joe Marler have been ferocious in training and everyone’s putting the pressure on.

“We’ve talked before about this team of 31 and everyone’s doing their part but Mako, when he plays well like he did, is a real force.

“Without sounding massively blase about it, I wasn’t surprised at the performance he turned in, but I can understand why people outside of our group would look at it and go ‘that’s a hell of a performance’.”

England name their team to face New Zealand on Thursday morning.