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'He's apologised and Eddie's been Eddie... there's been no change in his demeanour'

England have been more focused on fixing their breakdown problems than the high-profile build-up.

Murray Kinsella reports from Twickenham

BEFORE THIS SIX Nations got underway, we could have guessed that the build-up to England v Ireland on the final weekend would have been spicy enough, but few could have predicted just how high-profile things would get.

Ireland having a Grand Slam on the line was enough, before the video of Eddie Jones uttering the words “the scummy Irish” – apparently jokingly – emerged swiftly on the heels of news that assistant referee Marius van der Westhuizen had trained with England.

Eddie Jones Eddie Jones at England's captain's run today. Source: Matthew Impey/INPHO

Jones issued a swift apology over the 2017 footage and World Rugby moved to replace van der Westhuizen with Nigel Owens ahead of tomorrow’s clash, but it’s certainly not been a quiet build-up.

Jones, so often the master of driving the media narrative, has suddenly appeared to be on the back foot and he was apparently short-tempered during his media conference at Pennyhill yesterday.

But those around him insist that nothing has changed for the highly-experienced head coach.

“Eddie’s been good,” said England scrum coach Neal Hatley at Twickenham this morning.

“He’s obviously apologised unreservedly and Eddie’s been Eddie. We’ve worked hard in training and for us there’s been no change in his demeanour, he’s getting on with his job.”

As for the issue of van der Westhuizen coming into England camp just days before the meeting with Ireland, Hatley underlined that the English had not broken any rules.

England had wanted to bring in a Southern Hemisphere official in order to help them adapt to what will be different breakdown demands from match referee Angus Gardner.

“Adaption is important,” said Hatley. “With regard to bringing a referee in, it’s great to have a referee with international experience in.

“We followed the World Rugby protocol there and we try to get in as many different referees as we can so we are adapting. We get different points of view, different eyes looking at it and that’s the challenge for our players. Eddie talks about how quickly we need to adapt and that’s the challenge.

referee Marius Van der Westhuizen Van der Westhuizen has been replaced. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“We went through World Rugby, they’ve made the decision not to have Marius on the touchline. We’ll deal with whatever it is on the day, the change is irrelevant.”

It does look like Gardner will be a key factor in tomorrow’s contest, with his adjudicating of the breakdown expected to be stricter on jackals, who have been getting away with placing their hands on the ground before getting onto the ball, among other offences, very often in this Six Nations.

“It’s irrelevant really,” said Hatley of what England expect from Gardner. “We’ve got to make sure we pick it up in the first five or 10 minutes and adjust to it. The referee will be what the referee will be.

“You watch footage of the last few games and how he referees it, so that will be what it is. We’ve got to make sure we adapt.”

Having conceded seven breakdown turnovers to Scotland and then a further nine against the French last time out, if England don’t fix this area, Ireland will be some way towards securing their Grand Slam.

“We’re not hiding from it, we know it’s an area we have to improve in and we put in lots of work for the last two weeks,” said Hatley. “The way we carry, the ball, the way we change our speed to get to the breakdown, a lot of those factors we’ve looked at and put hard work into it.

“Each breakdown is so fluid. Some of it will be technical and some of it will be an energy issue. Each one changes so it’s not all one issue. Other sides attack that area, as France did. It’s about the decision-making as well.

“Ireland have probably attacked the breakdown less than they have done in the last two years.

Eddie Jones Eddie Jones at Twickenham today. Source: Matthew Impey/INPHO

“But they’ve got people like Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander, Cian Healy, guys who are very good there, Tadhg Furlong and Rory Best are exceptional too. We know how hard a task it will be in that area.”

All in all, Hatley has seen enough in the England players this week to believe there will be a major response to two consecutive defeats.

“I’d say angry and I’d say competitive as well,” said Hatley of the English mindset. “We want people scrapping for places, we demand that, so there’s obviously a certain bit of anger with what’s happened in the last two weeks.”

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Murray Kinsella

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