Eddie Jones up to his usual tricks ahead of Ireland encounter
England coach highlights refereeing of scrums ahead of Twickenham game
England coach Eddie Jones has turned up the pressure on referee Pascal Gaüzère ahead of Saturday’s game against Ireland. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images
Mako Vunipola has been recalled to the England frontrow for Saturday’s game against Ireland. Photograph: David Rogers/RFU Collection via Getty Images
Eddie Jones is never shy about lobbing a pre-match grenade into the mix and in advance of Saturday’s Autumn Nations Cup clash at Twickenham once again he hasn’t disappointed. While there was a mischievous reference to Ireland’s team of United Nations, altogether more contentious and significant was drawing attention to Andrew Porter’s technique and Pascal Gaüzère’s refereeing at scrum time.
Jones took particular delight in the way England’s scrum took on Georgia’s prime strength last weekend and asked if that had been ideal preparation given how well Ireland went there again, Jones used this as an opportunity to make an observation about Gaüzère.
“Well I think the scrum contest is always challenging against Ireland,” he began, before adding: “We’ve got a referee on the weekend who generally doesn’t reward dominant scrums so it’ll be interesting to see how he looks at that area. We’ll need to be adaptable to his calls on it. It’s no use scrummaging if you can’t get a result out of it. But they’ve got a good scrum, [Cian] Healy’s played 100 caps at loosehead, so he’s got to be hugely respected.”
Then asked about Porter, Jones said: “He’s done really well mate, he’s taken to Test rugby well – scrums in a fairly unusual way which may need some referee intervention there. So we’ll wait and see.”
What does he do? “I’ll leave that up to the referee mate,” said Jones, perma-grin intact.
The curious aspect of all this is that Gaüzère is the same referee who heavily rewarded a ‘dominant’ scrum when giving Saracens seven penalties to one at scrum time in a 15-10 penalty count against Leinster two months ago.
Then again, of course, with Mako Vunipola one of four Saracens forwards opposing Porter, one of four of that starting Leinster pack, Jones is looking to provoke Gaüzère to do so again.
As for the reference to an Irish starting XV featuring five players who qualified through the residency ruling, this was in response to Jones being asked about Ireland’s southern hemisphere influence.
“I heard someone calling them the United Nations, mate, so I had a quick chuckle,” he swiftly responded. “But Andy Farrell, Mike Catt and Nick Easter [meaning Simon Easterby] are just selecting the team they are allowed to select under the regulations. I can understand how Irish people would be upset about Irish-born players missing out but they’re the laws and regulations of international rugby so they are just sticking by the regulations,” said the Australian-born one-time coach of the Wallabies, South Africa and Japan.
Amid all the jostling, there was palpable respect for Ireland and this rivalry, witness recalls for Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill in his strongest available team, and amid clear signs that Jones has been highlighting the Irish fervour for playing the auld enemy.
Among the compliments was the statement that Ireland are “the best poaching team in Europe”. He explained: “They go hard at the ball. Guys like CJ Stander and Peter O’Mahony are both really good at that contest. We have a referee on Saturday who really favours the contest so that’s going to be a real battle.”
Much of England’s three-match winning run against Ireland, by an aggregate of 113-47, has been predicated on the men in white dominating the collisions and bullying Ireland up front.
Another recurring feature, particularly of the win in the Aviva Stadium in the 2018 Six Nations opener and last February in Twickenham, was the damage caused by England’s array of kickers out of hand. But Jones maintained this hinged on the former, ie the battle on the gainline.
“You’re only able to attack the backfield when you are able to get through the front line. You’ve got to be able to get momentum on the gainline. They’ve picked a fairly heavyweight pack with O’Mahony and Stander in the backrow and the runner at 8 in Doris, so that’s going to be a challenge for us to get momentum up front.
Ireland’s 32-20 loss in the opening defence of their Grand Slam in 2019 so unhinged them that Joe Schmidt admitted it left the team “a little broken”. Not that Jones took particular joy in that.
“Not at all, mate. Every battle is a tough battle. We were going well and Ireland beat us for a Grand Slam in 2017. We’ll never forget that. These are good battles between two good rugby countries, different sized countries, different histories, but the battles and traditional rivalry is enormous and it needs to be respected.”
Ireland’s 13-9 win in 2017 also prevented England from surpassing New Zealand’s record 18-match winning sequence.
“It just showed me how hard it is to keep winning. We thought we were a team that was going pretty well and we went to Lansdowne Road, we thought, well prepared and ready for the challenge ahead, but they were just too good for us on that day.”
Their World Cup final defeat by South Africa a year ago was another “lesson”, although asked what went wrong in Dublin in 2017, Jones admitted: “I don’t know mate. That’s one of the great things about coaching. When you get beat you generally don’t know. We’d all like to know.
“If I was a television commentator I’d be one of those guys that’s got a 100 per cent record, that’s never lost a Test, they know everything. But unfortunately I’m not at that stage yet. So once I retire I will know everything, but now I’m just trying to be as good a coach as I can be.”
ENGLAND (v Ireland, Autumn Nations Cup, Twickenham, Saturday, 3pm): Elliot Daly (Saracens); Jonathan Joseph (Bath), Ollie Lawrence (Worcester), Henry Slade (Exeter), Jonny May (Gloucester), Owen Farrell (Saracens, capt), Ben Youngs (Leicester); Mako Vunipola (Saracens), Jamie George (Saracens), Kyle Sinckler (Bristol); Maro Itoje (Saracens), Joe Launchbury (Wasps); Tom Curry (Sale), Sam Underhill (Bath), Billy Vunipola (Saracens).
Replacements: Tom Dunn (Bath), Ellis Genge (Leicester), Will Stuart (Bath), Jonny Hill (Exeter), Ben Earl (Bristol), Dan Robson (Wasps), George Ford (Leicester), Max Malins (Bristol).