England‘s three-Test series against the Springboks opens at a venue Jones describes as the “spiritual home of rugby” – knowing that since 1972 no Red Rose team has prevailed in Johannesburg.
Two visits to the South African stronghold with the Wallabies ensures Jones understands what to expect when he seeks to end a four-match losing run on Saturday.
“I think it was 2005 and we had beaten the Springboks conclusively the week before. We came here and I think it was a special occasion for Nelson Mandela,” England’s head coach said.
“We were waiting for the bus, the bus was late, we got a police escort and that was going slower than the bus.
“We got to the ground 50 minutes before the game. We went out, warmed up and then had a tribe going through our warm-up.
“Then we go back in and someone was sitting in the entrance to our changing room in a golf cart – it was Nelson Mandela.
“We couldn’t ask him to move, so had to wait patiently and we went into half-time 15 points down.
“That is part of touring South Africa – you have to be resilient and let the uncontrollables go and get on with it. We have to be ready for everything.”
Ellis Park was the setting for the Springboks’ World Cup final victory over New Zealand in 1995 and one of the sport’s finest moments – Mandela handing Francois Pienaar the Webb Ellis Cup.
“It will be hostile but it’s fantastic and I am so excited about it. In world rugby who do you want to beat? The Springboks at Ellis Park – it is the spiritual home of rugby,” Jones said.
“Everyone who knows anything about rugby remembers that 1995 World Cup final and the change that that had for rugby and the country – as well as the value that had for sport in general.
“To get the opportunity to play against the Springboks in the first Test of a three-Test series at Ellis Park is a special occasion for everyone involved.
“I remember watching the game in Sydney very clearly. My wife and I had just got married and we had a little baby, Chelsea. I remember my wife was doing the ironing and I was watching the game.”
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