Claire Lonergan talks to Chelsea Jones ’11 about her logistics role with the Wallabies and returning to Japan for the Rugby World Cup.
Rugby and Japan are twin threads that run through the Jones family. Alumni parent Eddie Jones (AP ’09–’11), the son of a Japanese-American mother and Australian father, began playing the sport in high school and went on to join teams in Australia and the United Kingdom. He left the field to teach and coach, meeting Chelsea’s mother Hiroko during his time at the International Grammar School in Sydney. Shortly after Chelsea’s birth, Jones gave up his career as a teacher and school principal to coach his former club Randwick before heading to Japan to coach at Tokai University, Suntory Sungoliath and work with Japan’s national team as the assistant coach. The family returned to Australia in 1998 and Jones went on to coach the ACT Brumbies to their first title before taking over as head coach of the Wallabies, Australia’s national team.
A return to Japan in 2009, brought Jones back to Suntory Sungoliath and Chelsea to ASIJ, where she joined the high school as a junior. Chelsea would graduate in 2011 and the following year Jones
took over as head coach of the Brave Blossoms, Japan’s national team, going on to lead them to the 2015 Rugby World Cup and an upset win over South Africa. Following the tournament, Jones was appointed head coach for the England team. In the interim, Chelsea had graduated from college and begun her own career in rugby working on logistics with the Australian national team.
It was the recent Rugby World Cup hosted by Japan which saw both father and daughter return to Japan—Eddie with the England team and Chelsea with the Wallabies. The first Rugby World Cup to be held in Asia, the tournament attracted a record 99.3 percent attendance at grounds in the 48 matches with 1.84m tickets sold and a total economic impact for the hosts valued at ¥437 billion. A further 1.13m supporters watched games at the fanzones, which included an area at Chofu Station. With many of the games played at the Tokyo Stadium near Tobitakyu, ASIJ was close to the action—Chelsea and the Wallabies even used the School as a staging ground prior to their game at the stadium.
How did your father’s work influence your interest in rugby? Were you interested in the sport as a child?
Growing up in the rugby environment, which allowed me to travel the world as a child, definitely influenced my interest in rugby. In a way, I didn’t really have a choice—I just had to love it! I enjoyed swimming and tennis as a child, but to be honest I was never as interested in what was going on “on the field” as opposed to, off.
How did you end up working for the Wallabies?
I worked at Rugby Australia, which is the governing body of Rugby Union in Australia, for over three years in an administration and logistics role for teams which was office-based and did not involve any touring. From there, I was approached to join the Wallabies at the start of 2018.
What is your day to day work like?
Every single day is so different. The first six months of the year involves a lot of office-based work where I plan for the back-end of the year which is when we are in season. The second six months of the year we are on the road domestically and internationally. I suppose the main differences between the first and second half of the year is that one half I have a proper desk, and the second half I am working on the run in hotels, airports and stadiums. I think I have even had to open my laptop in the back of a truck once in Argentina!
What are your major responsibilities for the team?
I manage all day to day operations of the team—my main focus is to ensure that everything off the field runs seamlessly. My job is to make sure the players and coaching staff have everything they need to allow them to succeed on the field.
What do you enjoy most about working for the Wallabies?
I love working for the Wallabies because I feel honored that I can represent my country, and the guys in the team are awesome. They’re like real family to me.
You’re on the road half the year, does traveling this much affect your personal life?
I don’t let it. The people close to me in my life understand my job and how demanding it is so I don’t feel pressure to try to “balance” my personal and professional life. The second six months of the year can be tough as I don’t have many home comforts or get to see close friends and family, but time goes so fast when we are on the road and I am constantly in touch with everyone back home.
This was your first Rugby World Cup. How did it differ from other tournaments?
It was totally different from any other international tournament or game I have been involved in. The stakes are so much higher and the involvement of 20 countries makes for an interesting campaign. Being able to meet colleagues from all of the different teams was a highlight for me. We all had so much in common but at the same time were from totally different worlds, but rugby had brought us all together.
Did your first hand knowledge of Japan help?
Definitely. Being able to speak Japanese was a huge bonus for me. My job entails so much attention to detail that being able to skip the translation stage and speak directly to people made it a very comfortable experience for me.
Were there any unique challenges?
Working in Japan was definitely challenging. The rigorous and procedural way in which they operate is very different to how we operate in Australia. There is not much room for movement once a plan has been committed to. There were a few heated conversations where I urgently needed to change something at the last minute and my Japanese was definitely being tested!
As you and your father work for different teams— Eddie Jones is the head coach for the England team—is there any family rivalry between you?
No rivalry whatsoever.
Will you be supporting England in the final?
Definitely—I am thrilled to see my father and his team doing so well.
Have you faced any challenges being a woman in such a male dominated sport?
Sure, they have been small challenges here and there but nothing major. I am so lucky to live in a country where opportunities like this exist for women in sport. My team and organization don’t treat me any differently and they respect me much the same as my other colleagues. I want young girls to believe and know there are no barriers to what they want to achieve in life, and if there are, break them down!
What is the most unexpected thing you can tell us about working for a sports team?
I can’t say that I was really shocked by anything as I have been around rugby my whole life. I have a few funny changing room stories, but they're probably not appropriate to share here!
What do you like to do in your free time?
I love travelling mostly to somewhere warm and near a beach—Thailand is my favorite holiday destination. I also love spending quality time with my friends and family, going to the cinema (which forces me to switch my phone off!), drinking great coffee and eating even better food.
Do you have any fond memories from ASIJ?
The friends that I made—I have a very close group from ASIJ who I am so grateful for. Even though the majority of them live in the United States now, and I don’t get to see them very often, every time I do it is like no time has passed whatsoever.
How would you say ASIJ shaped who you are today?
The inclusive and all-encompassing nature of ASIJ is something I try to embody in myself. I treat everyone I come across in my personal and professional life with the same level of respect and embrace every opportunity with open arms. What’s the worst that can happen?! I absolutely loved going to school with students from all over the globe and learning about their backgrounds and stories of how they had ended up in Tokyo.
You mentioned helping out with the ASIJ HS basketball team. How do you end up getting involved with the team?
My close friend was already involved and asked me if I wanted to help out. We had such fun and it taught us some great leadership skills at a young age. You could say my sports managerial career kick started there!
Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?
To be honest, I am not a long term planner. I take it day by day. Will keep you posted!