England will face Ireland first in the Guinness 6 Nations and given their victory over New Zealand in November, Joe Schmidt’s side will be favourites for the clash in Dublin. Instead of naming a 35-man squad for the championship, England head coach Eddie Jones has been keen to highlight that this a squad focussed solely on preparing for this key clash, as he told RugbyPass at Twickenham.
Jones said, “I think we’ve got a very strong squad, I think we’ve got a lot of work to do to beat Ireland but I think with that squad we’re very capable of beating Ireland.”
With the shortest list of players in the treatment room for some time, Jones is relishing the chance of selecting from a pool of players that now includes Billy and Mako Vunipola, Joe Launchbury and Ellis Genge. Plus the recall of “old fella Dan Cole” will put pressure on the tighthead area behind Sinckler and Williams.
Of those still out, Hartley and Robshaw are two of Jones’ most reliable men and Jones is not expecting his captain back until the Wales game at the earliest, commenting, “[Dylan’s] got an old injury in his knee that just needs some time to rehab and it’s probably going to be the first two games he misses.”
As for Robshaw, Jones was more hopeful, “He’s got a knee injury, he’s had an operation on that but he’s coming along nicely. He’s not going to be ready for the Ireland game but we’d be hopeful he’ll be ready for selection for the French game.”
A notable absentee from Jones’ squad is Danny Care with Wasps’ Dan Robson given the nod to face Ireland behind Ben Youngs. Considering Jones has often stuck by his phrase, “it’s the best 23 for the game”, he was asked whether Robson’s form has earned his place or given that he knows what he gets from Care and Wigglesworth, is it more about there being fewer opportunities to see Robson in an England shirt before the Rugby World Cup?
Jones responded, “It’s a bit of both, I think his form has been good and we’ve always wanted to give him the opportunity. It’s an important position for us, nine. Benny Youngs has been our starting nine and we’ve got Wiggy and Danny – both good players, ready to step back into the mould.”
Jones describes players needing to come into camp and get up to speed with playing the ‘England way’. He explained, “It’s very much about set-piece and defence. That we’re strong in set piece, strong in defence and when we attack, we’ve got a predictability about what we do but we’re unpredictable to the opposition.”
The scrum, line-out, restart and breakdown are the key contest areas that Jones sees as key to winning the modern game. So how does he think England are faring in those areas? Jones concluded, “Pretty good, but we need to get better and we’ll need to be better in that area to beat Ireland. That’s one of their strongest areas.”
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