Sharp-talker Jones says spy filmed England, lobs barbs at NZ

FILE - In this Oct. 2, 2019, file photo, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen watches his players warm up ahead of the Rugby World Cup Pool B game at Oita Stadium between New Zealand and Canada in Oita, Japan. Of the eight teams remaining in the Rugby World Cup four are coached by New Zealanders who, from similar beginnings, pursued divergent coaching careers before their paths intersected at this tournament. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila, File)
England's coach Eddie Jones gestures ahead of the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal match against Australia at Oita Stadium in Oita, Japan, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

TOKYO — It's Rugby World Cup semifinals week and Eddie Jones, one of the sport's sharpest talkers, is in full wind-up mode.

The team bearing the brunt of the England coach's barbs? England's opponent on Saturday, the world champion All Blacks.

The All Blacks' mental skills coach will be "the busiest bloke in Tokyo," Jones said Tuesday. He described New Zealand's journalists as "fans with laptops." He spoke of "omens" in the week of Japan's enthronement of a new emperor.

He even made accusations of spying.

"There was definitely someone in the apartment block, filming," Jones claimed after England's morning training session.

Jones, an Australian, didn't explicitly accuse the New Zealanders of spying — "it might have been a Japanese fan, I don't care," he said — but he added that the viewer wouldn't have learnt anything new.

"You just don't need to do it anymore," Jones said. "You can see everything. You can watch everyone's training on YouTube. There's no value in doing that sort of thing, absolutely zero.

"Everyone knows what everyone does — there are no surprises in world rugby anymore. That's the great thing about the game, you just have to be good enough on the day."

One of the most experienced coaches in world rugby, the 59-year-old Jones is widely known for employing mind games ahead of big test matches. The spy claim is likely an attempt to divert the pressure off his England players and onto the All Blacks, who are aiming to win a third straight World Cup title and become world champions for a record-extending fourth time.

"Put up your hand if you think we can win," Jones said to reporters in a Tokyo hotel, before adding: "There you go, so no one. No one thinks we can win. There are 120 million Japanese people out there whose second team are the All Blacks. So there's no pressure on us.

"We've just got to have a great week, enjoy it, relax. Train hard and enjoy this great opportunity we've got. Whereas (the All Blacks) have got to be thinking about how they're looking for their third (consecutive) World Cup and so that brings some pressure."

Jones said Gilbert Enoke, New Zealand's mental skills coach, was in for a busy few days.

"They have to deal with all this pressure of winning the World Cup three times (in a row) and it is potentially the last game for their greatest coach (Steve Hansen) and their greatest captain (Kieran Read), and they will be thinking about those things," Jones said. "Those thoughts go through your head. It is always harder to defend a World Cup and they will be thinking about that and therefore there is pressure."

Jones was in his element by now, using every trick in his book.

Asked about the Emperor Naruhito's ascension to the Chrysanthemum Throne in a ceremony in Tokyo on Tuesday, thereby becoming Japan's 126th emperor, Jones even found a way to link that to rugby.

"It's a change in history, isn't it?" he said. "It's a change in the history of Japan, now we are going to have a change in the history of the World Cup.

"It's nice symmetry, and I do believe in omens."

Hansen, speaking before Jones in another area of Tokyo, said he could play his part in the expected psychological battle.

Just not yet.

"It's a real thing — sometimes you're better not to bother going there and sometimes you are," Hansen said. "Eddie will decide whether he wants to go there and I've already decided what I want to do. You'll have to wait and see, I guess.

"There's still a couple more days to go. There's no point is there? He's a smart man. He knows me and I know him."

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More AP Rugby World Cup: https://www.apnews.com/RugbyWorldCup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

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