Eddie Jones bombards Ireland with kindness ahead of Twickenham showdown

‘They are literally, and I say that without any hesitation, the most cohesive side’

Eddie Jones wasn't born yesterday and he doesn't just make this stuff up. By holding court on a Monday it allows the English head coach to set the agenda for the week and so it's fairly to safe to assume his utterances have been pre-planned.

The secret is to take it all with a large dollop of salt, or at any rate regard it as the invariably entertaining sideshow that it is.

There was his jibe at Ireland (and their supporters) prior to the 2017 Six Nations finale at the Aviva Stadium when he forecast: "It will be raining high balls – it will be kick and clap and the fans at the Aviva Stadium love it. They love that and get excited so we know what to expect."

This didn’t prevent Joe Schmidt’s side deservedly winning 13-9 and so deny England both back-to-back Grand Slams and a world record 19 successive Test wins.

Prior to the Autumn Nations Cup game in November 2020, Ireland’s inclusion of three New Zealand-born and two South African-born players prompted the Australian, who has coached Japan and now England, to comment: “I heard someone calling them the United Nations, so I had a little chuckle.”

This had no relevance on the game either, as England won more convincingly than the 18-7 scoreline indicated.

But this week his ploy has been to bombard Ireland with kindness, bestowing upon them the tag of favourites (which they are , if only by one or two points with the bookies) at a venue where they have lost on their last three visits, while also inferring that Ireland's system and Leinster influence affords Andy Farrell all manner of advantages that doesn't apply come World Cup time.

“They are literally, and I say that without any hesitation, the most cohesive side in the world,” said Jones.

“Ireland are favourites for the game, they’ve been in very good form in the autumn, they’re a very settled team, well-coached by Andy Farrell. We’re in a perfect position, aren’t we? They’re flying high, we can’t get out of our own way or past the barrier according to most journalists.

“There are teams that have a head start at the moment, but you’ve got to be good enough to overcome those. We don’t use it as an excuse, we don’t complain about it, worry about it, it’s part of the landscape of English rugby.

“We can only have 25 players [after] Tuesday, other teams can have 42 until Thursday so it’s all different. But once you get to the World Cup campaign start, it’s all equal.”

All of which sounded like at least something of a complaint, but Jones maintained he wasn’t frustrated.

“No, not at all mate. When I signed up to the job I knew it was going to be like that. It’s one of the great challenges. When we get to the World Cup with three months to go everyone evens out. There are teams that have a head start at the moment, but you’ve got to be good enough to overcome those. We don’t use it as an excuse, we don’t complain about it, worry about it, it’s part of the landscape of English rugby. We just get on with it.”

In fairness, as Jones also noted, Ireland’s central contract system and player management have indeed contributed to Johnny Sexton’s durability and longevity, as it has for countless other players from a country with a smaller playing pool.

“He’s an outstanding operator,” said Jones. “He’s obviously got a thirst for playing rugby and he’s got the advantage of being looked after by his province. If he was playing anywhere else in the world it would probably be a bit more difficult but because they’ve got the Leinster-Ireland connection, he’s allowed to have the optimal preparation for international rugby and he’s a durable guy.

“How many times have we seen it look like he’s got a terrible injury and he comes back and plays well? It’s testament to his desire and to the way that Ireland have set up their rugby.”

Jones didn’t go so far as to say that Ireland are peaking too soon before a World Cup whereas he was timing England’s run perfectly.

“I’m not interested in that business, but all I can say is once you get three months from the World Cup everyone becomes even as everyone has the same amount of time. That’s where things become different for teams who maybe become more productive in other times, because of their advantages. That’s all part of it.”

Alex Dombrandt, who tested positive for Covid-19 last week, is likely to play.

“He has to do all the cardiac tests and we’ll see on Thursday if he can train at the necessary level. If that’s the case he’s a chance to play against Ireland.”

But, in addition to ruling out a return for Manu Tuilagi, Jones seemed less confident of the recalled Sam Underhill starting.

“He’s a quality player, he’s had a difficult season with Covid, sickness, a few injuries. He’s a little bit off his best, but we’ll give him the opportunity to train tomorrow and see where he’s up to, see if he’s at the necessary level to play an international game against Ireland. He’ll be in consideration for the 23.”

Tom Curry was, however, able to train on Monday after he was replaced at half-time against Wales with a head injury.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times

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