When Bob Dwyer coached Eddie Jones at Randwick, he says it was clear from the outset the pint-sized hooker had the potential to become a great rugby coach.
Jones was an “intense student” of the game with great discipline and focus, who enjoyed an unrivalled education in running rugby at Matraville High school and learned quickly how to do more with less, often giving away 20-30kg in weight on his direct opponents in Sydney club rugby.
In Dwyer’s eyes he had the knowledge, temperament and X-factor required to make it as a coach.
Michael Cheika, on the other hand – a cool, calm and collected kid who lived 400m up the road from Coogee Oval – not so much.
“It never occurred to me when (Cheika) was playing that he might become a coach,” Dwyer told AAP.
“But as soon as he became a coach, it was immediately clear he was a very good coach and was going to get better.
“I just thought he had everything going for him. He had his feet on the ground, his players loved him, and he had a solid long-term grounding in how to play the game properly at Randwick.
“When he applied for the job in Leinster in Ireland, when they asked me for a reference, I said at the end of the discussion, ‘let me sum it up this way: I see absolutely no reason why one day Cheik won’t coach Australia’.
“I didn’t realise what such a good call it was.”
Former Wallabies coach Dwyer is taking immense pride out of this month’s three-Test series between Cheika’s confident Australia and Jones’ recharged England.
Jones recently described Dwyer as the “father of modern Australian rugby”, responsible for creating a distinctly Australian style of play.
“Before me came a whole group of people at Randwick who did likewise,” Dwyer said.
“It sounds like bragging for my club but that club has been so successful in coaching in the modern era because they knew how to play the game and insisted on the detail of it.”
Dwyer believes Jones did stray from the principles he learned, becoming overly burdened with structure and stifling the creativity of his own teams during his Wallabies coaching tenure of 2001-2005.
“Sometimes you try so hard to keep progressing that you progress in a slightly wrong direction,” Dwyer said.
“It’s happened to all of us, it certainly happened to me. You mistake change for improvement. Eddie did, I hope he doesn’t mind me saying so.”
But Dwyer says Jones had an “epiphany” at the helm of club team Suntory Sungoliath in Japan, loosened the shackles on his coaching and enjoyed a second wind, then steering Japan to the biggest upset in World Cup history, and England to a comprehensive Six Nations triumph.
One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is Jones’ tendency to stir the pot – as he has tried to do in an apparent bid to unsettle former teammate Cheika.
“Cheik might want to say something back but I don’t think so,” Dwyer said.
“If it was face-to-face he might.
“From a distance it’s easier to do, sitting back and seeing who will have the last laugh.”
Dwyer is anticipating a “special sort of series” to unfold.
“From Australia’s point-of-view, we’re going to see a couple of people emerge and become really important players for the future,” he said.
“I’m sure we can win it but it’s going to be hard.”