With respect to the players who will take to the field for the Wallabies and England, it’s the clash of coaches Michael Cheika and Eddie Jones that have enlivened this last Test of the year.
It had been promised back in June when the English came here for their three-Test tour: Cheika vs Jones, current Australian coach against former one, both men who had led the Wallabies to a World Cup Final.
But there was more to it than that. Both were bona fide personalities, large enough to carry off the cult of the sideline sage. Cheika was the former fashion executive who didn’t need to coach rugby, yet had won at every post he’d set up (Leinster, the Waratahs, Australia).
Jones could forever hang his hat on what he achieved in Japan, in guiding the Brave Blossoms to their ground-breaking upset of the Springboks at the 2015 World Cup. Japanese department stores display huge portraits of Jones, as an exemplar of achievement against impossible odds.
Throw in the common club background of the two, dating back to Randwick, and you had a delicious coaching match-up. But it remained largely under the surface during the mid-year series, even as the English accomplished a three-nil series’ sweep.
No such problem now: ahead of this weekend’s game, the two engaged in the full spectrum of media-cycle, talking-point, psy-ops. Cheika kicked it off claiming that Jones had directed plenty of “vitriol” at his country of origin, and that he had held back talking about it, citing the odd, conflicted feelings a player gets against his old side.
Cheika, though, is something of a true believer. Even as a thoroughly modern pro coach, he still sells an old-school notation of amateur passion. What he says about Jones, he might actually believe: “Personally, if you want to leave a legacy somewhere you don't hit back at it when you leave.”
For his part, Jones wasn’t rising to the bait. “It's not for me to decide what my legacy is,” he said in response. “Do you think I'm the sort of person that worries about people's opinion of me?”
It’s all very fun foreground to an intriguing match – England is going for its record 14th straight win, while the Wallabies seek to round off a successful spring tour just a win short of a Grand Slam. Getting one back against England, and number-six out of their last seven at Twickenham, would be gratifying – and would surely be the best, last word after all the coaches’ talk.
“I like to have fun, mate," Jones said. "We've had a great week here preparing … Cheika's had fun and everyone's enjoying it. It's great for rugby. There's nothing better than an Australia-England rivalry is there?"