'Everything else, apart from the rugby, is a sideshow': Ireland not taking Eddie Jones's bait

Best hails Josh van der Flier as a “handful” ahead of his Ireland debut.

Keith Earls, Simon Zebo and Ultan Dillane at today's captain's run in Twickenham.
Keith Earls, Simon Zebo and Ultan Dillane at today's captain's run in Twickenham.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

GREG FEEK HAS backed Johnny Sexton to handle anything that comes his way during tomorrow’s clash at Twickenham.

Eddie Jones caused a furore with his comments about the Ireland number 10’s well-being yesterday when he stated: “They’ve talked about him having whiplash injury, which is not a great thing to talk about. I’m sure his mother and father would be worried about that. Hopefully, the lad’s alright on Saturday to play.”

Deliberate or not, Jones’s questionable remarks intimated that Sexton’s channel would be a prime target.

Sexton has come in for heavy punishment in recent weeks and was forced off with a ‘whiplash’ injury in the closing stages of Ireland’s 10-9 defeat by France in Paris two weeks ago. ​

“Johnny is probably one of the most hard-working, physical players around,” says ​Ireland’s scrum coach. ​

​He doesn’t look massively strong, but he is physically strong and in that channel, quite often, it’s a combative area. Occasionally he might get his head up or shoulder down and make a big hit.

“I think it’s a little bit unfair to say that… but there’s so many things that are said. You don’t want to be distracted by that and, for us, we certainly don’t target players, because there’s not enough time in the game to worry about that anyway. They’ve got a job to do.”

Rory Best Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Jones has certainly done his level-best to get under Ireland’s skin this week with jibes featuring Stoke City, inaccurate kicking stats, and even bringing family members into the firing line.

Ireland captain Rory Best, however, is refusing to take the bait and is keen to avoid the ‘sideshow’ that Jones has sought to create from his lair at Pennyhill Park this week.

“We’ve enough going on with our own stuff,” says the Ulster hooker.

“We didn’t catch all of that and we’re not that worried about that. We have to look after our own stuff. We have to make sure that the stuff that we’ve trained for over the last few weeks, the stuff that we’ve put in place for tomorrow, that we are as​ close to perfect as we can be, because that’s where you need to be against England.

Everything else, apart from the rugby for us, is a sideshow that we don’t want to get involved in. All we know is that Johnny is a key player for us. He’s a quality player.

Best will have Mike Ross back alongside him to face the might of the English pack.

The veteran tighthead will be making his first start in this season’s championship having proved his fitness with Leinster over the past few weeks.

“Yeah I think the guys that have been there have done pretty well. Obviously there were a few things in the French game that didn’t go our way but we tried to look at those things and take out of it what we can improve,” Feek explains.

“We might not always agree on the decisions that are made and that’s probably not just as scrum-time as well, and Rossy comes in with his experience and having played here before, played against England many times now, so we’re hoping that we can have a good contest and will be happy afterwards with how things have gone as we had planned.”

As Ireland welcome back their 36-year-old tighthead, a 22-year-old openside will be making his Test bow in one of the world’s most intimating arenas.

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Josh van der Flier has looked every inch a Test quality flanker this season and Best believes the Leinster rookie will not take a backwards ​step ​against Billy Vunipola and co at England HQ.

“We played against him for Ulster against Leinster, he’s a handful,” says Best on his new team-mate.

“​He’s good at the breakdown and he’s very combative, not only at the breakdown but in carrying the ball and the tackle. I think we’d seen a little bit of him last season when he played a few games for Leinster and then ticked the tail end of the season off.

“You can sort of tell with these players, like when Conor Murray first came into the Ireland squad as a really young kid, he wasn’t the best player there, but you could tell there was something about him.

“It’s the same with Josh. There’s just something about him that you know he is going to be a quality player. I think to have trained with, he’s just a player that’s very easy to train with because you know that if you ask him to do something, he’ll do it.

“Whenever we talk about getting our detail right, you know he’s going to be one of the guys that very, very rarely makes a mistake. For somebody that young, it’s a great trait to have and I think​,​ for me personally​,​ I’m really looking forward to playing alongside him tomorrow.”

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