Eddie Jones, now more than ever, needs a victory. The England coach has travelled this path before, he has brought the ire of many down upon himself, only to smile and jibe his way to safety.
Not on this day. The problems stem from Murrayfield and Paris rather than the 58-year-old Australian’s unique way of communicating via acerbic jest.
The timing of a video – which Second Captains turned viral – catching Jones verbally abusing Irish people (and Wales as a whole) was addressed at the beginning of Thursday’s very serious press conference in Pennyhill Park.
“I apologise for the remarks,” Jones began. “I sincerely mean that. I really don’t have anything else to say on the matter. I’m happy to answer questions on the fantastic game that is coming up but I think the other matter is dead.”
Unfortunately, for Jones, the media refuse to adhere to his post-apology proclamation.
“It might be dead to you,” came the instant response, “but I don’t think it is dead to anyone else Eddie . . .”
Question one, two, three and the rest eventually angered him: Jones did concede, “possibly yes” when asked if he would consider the tone of his public utterances in the future.
Is it fuel to the Irish fire?
“Ireland are preparing for a Grand Slam they don’t need any extra motivation.”
The fact he cut Danny Care and Dan Cole along with the expected benching of George Ford, Jamie George and Joe Launchbury ensured the "scummy Irish" subplot was, temporarily, drowned out.
Every player Jones dropped was informed before the delayed RFU press release at 1pm.
“I speak to each player that’s not selected. I have a conversation. I tell them what I think. Sometimes they don’t like to hear it, sometimes they do. That’s part of the job.”
For every crushing blow there follows a smiling face. The Saracens duo get a chance; Richard Wigglesworth at scrumhalf and Owen Farrell finally conducting matters having only worn 10 once under Jones while Ben Te'o and Jonathan Joseph reform their brief partnership from last summer's Lions match against the NZ Barbarians.
Up front Kyle Sinckler, George Kruis, James Haskell and returning captain Dylan Hartley form a dramatically different English pack. But Jones had to surf another wave of questions, not about his comments, but their impact on a squad he has stated can win the World Cup 19 months from now.
“The other situation I’ve addressed it, I’ve apologised for it and can’t do anything about it now.”
Was it a distraction?
“Not for me.”
Has it seeped into the players’ thoughts?
“I don’t even think the players know about it.”
Warned them about what they might read or hear?
“No, we don’t speak about the media.”
He did agree this week has been the most testing in three seasons as England coach.
“Without a doubt and it’s going to be good for us.”
Jones is coaching on familiar terrain. He was embroiled in two World Cup finals (2003 as Wallabies head coach and with the Springboks in 2007) and has suffered similar slumps.
“I’ve had plenty of them, mate. The Brumbies, we lost the first three games of the season. South Africa in 2007 we lost three of the four Tri Nations games before the World Cup. Australia, we were beaten by 50 points by New Zealand six months before the World Cup.
“All these periods test you and you learn from them and become a stronger team.
“Experience teaches you a bit, it doesn’t teach you some things, but it teaches you a bit.”
Before news broke about Marius van der Westhuizen removal as touch judge – World Rugby admitting error – Jones’s answers had became monosyllabic to the point that the media manager interjected: “Guys, I think we can stick to the Ireland game. We are just running around in circles.”
Nobody wants a silenced Jones but he didn’t like the new questions either.
England won two Six Nations titles with Ford at outhalf and Farrell alongside him in split playmaking roles that looked like the Jones plan to deliver William Webb Ellis as much as Joe Schmidt leans on Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton.
Build an empire
Manu Tuilagi may never return so this malfunctioning 10-12 against France, with Ford drifting deeper into the abyss, means Te'o gets to reacquaint himself with Bundee Aki.
“Selection always has to be a merit based process.”
That brought matters to the tighthead England wanted to build an empire upon. Cole is benched as Sinckler – who was preferred cover for Tadhg Furlong – gets a chance.
“Sometimes you just need something a little bit different. With the resources we have available I think this is the best 23.”
Kruis, Sam Simmonds and Haskell are tasked to be power forwards in place of injured trio Billy Vunipola, Nathan Hughes and Courtney Lawes.
“I’ve picked a side that I think can get us on the front foot against Ireland.”
Only half-hearted wise cracks, Jones never sounded so unconvincing until perking up in the final exchanges. Maybe England in Twickenham can paper over the cracks.
"I got stats from yesterday's training that shows we are in our best physical state since the Six Nations began."
So this is an emotional test more than anything?
“100 per cent. It’s mental. When you lose a game of rugby it’s not your ability to play rugby, it’s not your fitness, it’s your ability to mentally come back from the game and that’s being tested at the moment.
“It’s the first time we have been tested like this. It’s better off it’s happening now rather than later on.”