ENGLAND HEAD COACH Eddie Jones is in familiar ebullient form as he prepares to defend the Six Nations title.
Even the ever-increasing injury toll was not enough to dampen his mood at today’s Six Nations launch in London. Jones reported that Kyle Sinckler’s hamstring issue was “significant” and was likely to keep the Harlequins tighthead out for up to seven weeks, making him a doubt to play any part in the Championship.
Henry Slade’s prognosis is slightly better at three to four weeks, so he could conceivably play a part in the final two rounds of the tournament.
Asked if he had any intentions to call up any replacement for Slade, Jones batted back at the reporter:
“Not the way you’re going, mate. You’re not in with a chance of getting called.”
With 15 players now on England’s list of confirmed absentees — enough for a team, albeit one overloaded with looseheads — Jones shrugged off the notion that there might be an underlying reason for the strain on his players, though he did single the Lions tour out for a notable mention.
“By the time we get back (from Portugal) it’ll be 20,” the Australian added wryly.
“You just have these runs. I don’t think it’s anything significant. You have ups and downs in the game and at this time you’ve a number of injuries.
Potentially, for the Lions players, you can understand the risk of injuries is higher because of the lack of pre-season they’ve had. But obviously they’re not all Lions.”
Of the men who do stand a chance of playing against Italy on the opening weekend, Jones rated Mike Brown and Chris Robshaw as ‘borderline’ – despite the former captain’s obvious ability to thrive in pool sessions.
“Chris Robshaw’s unbelievable in the pool. He did a water aerobics class with a bunch of Portuguese women yesterday and apparently he was best in the class.
“If we play Italy in the pool, he’ll be alright. If we play Italy in rugby, he’ll be borderline.”
Amid much laughter from the assembled press at the Six Nations launch though, there were also telling clarification questions after Jones’ proclamations that the media had created a cloud of ‘doom and gloom’ over his team due to the struggles of English clubs in the Champions Cup.
Where has Jones picked up the idea that even money tournament favourites England are predicted to struggle?
“I can read. In Australia they do teach us how to read. The popular conception is that Australians can’t read. We do have an education system – we borrowed it from England, so it’s quite a rigid system – so I’ve read a number of the comments on the Six Nations.
“You look at it: ‘Ireland’s provincial sides are doing well. Scotland had a great Autumn series. We had a muddling Autumn series, a list of injuries as long as my arm, we’ve one team who sneaked into the Champions Cup quarter-finals’. It’s all doom and gloom, that’s what I’m reading, mate.”
Where are you reading this? You are favourites.
“I must be making it up, mate. I’ve a great imagination.”
Conor O’Shea would certainly agree with the latter exchange as his Italy team brace to clash with the back-to-back champions on the opening weekend. When the issue of England’s injury list is put to O’Shea by ESPN, he replied:
“Okay, I’ll pick Eddie’s team for him: Vunipola, Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole, Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury, Itoje at six, Chris Robshaw, Sam Simmonds at eight.
“Youngs or Care, Ford, Farrell, Joseph, Watson, May, Brown.
“Is that an injury crisis?”