England's taunt: 'Ireland haven't played a team like us before'
Eddie Jones sounded like he had his wires weirdly crossed when speaking in the embargoed section of his England Six Nations media briefing on Thursday. On the one hand, the English coach had twice appeared at press sessions this week to suggest that Ireland were red-hot favourites heading into Saturday’s clash at Twickenham.
However, that narrative wasn’t consistently applied as he also tried to allege that Ireland have never faced the type of physicality that England play with – which sounded odd given it was just twelve months ago when Andy Farrell’s Irish team handed Jones’ side the mother of all Six Nations beatings in Dublin.
That hammering, which consigned England to an embarrassing fifth-place finish in the Six Nations, resulted in the RFU conducting an internal review into the team’s failure and while Jones is set to take on the Irish having since revamped his backroom staff with new assistants in Richard Cockerill, Anthony Seibold and Martin Gleeson, nine of the matchday 23 from Aviva Stadium have been chosen to play this weekend – seven as starters (Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Charlie Ewels, Tom Curry and Joe Marchant).
It was when claiming that England are now at a level of conditioning and cohesiveness in this Six Nations campaign that has surpassed where they finished off the recent Autumn Nations Series that Jones stumbled into making his odd claim about facing Ireland.
“The only comparison we make is we have now surpassed in terms of our conditioning and cohesiveness where we were against South Africa,” he said.
“It took four weeks to get back there and now we are making some real progress and we will see that progress on Saturday and we will get after Ireland – and Ireland haven’t played against a team like us before. They haven’t played against South Africa since 2017. We play with a physicality they haven’t seen before, so I am looking forward to seeing what we can do on Saturday.”
Jones’ assessment of Ireland was on firmer ground when he talked about the influences of Jamison Gibson-Park and James Lowe, a pair of Kiwis who played together for the New Zealand Maori team before joining Leinster and going on to become Irish-qualified at Test level.
“Against Ireland, it is always around the breakdown (that is important) and then traditionally it is in the aerial contest but with them picking Gibson-Park ahead of Conor Murray they are probably prioritising their running game more than their contestable kicking game, but that is not to say Gibson-Park can’t contestable pick.
“And with Lowe there, he brings them a long kicking game which is a bit different from what they have been doing. So you have that aerial contest and the contest on the ground is going to be crucial.”
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