EDDIE JONES CLAIMS he’s not Donald Trump – “I’m not Donald Trump” is a direct quote from the England boss during yesterday’s Six Nations launch – but he’s certainly not afraid of a bit of fake news.
The Australian had a key message to deliver yesterday: Ireland are favourites for the Six Nations.
The bookies don’t agree and England have long been the real favourites for the championship but after a number of injuries to his players, Jones is looking to pile the pressure onto Joe Schmidt’s side.
To be fair to Schmidt, he was aware something like this was coming.
“I know he’s going to throw the odd grenade in, and fair play to him for doing it,” said Schmidt. “It keeps everyone interested and it keeps us on our toes.
“We’ve got to come up with some clever ripostes, but we’re just not clever enough to do it that well.”
Schmidt might laugh it off as fun and games in public, but one senses that Jones’ jibes frustrate the Ireland boss behind closed doors.
And Jones was only too happy to suggest that Six Nations favouritism for Ireland puts them under pressure to deliver.
“Well, it’s different, isn’t it? You go into a major tournament – and this is one of the major tournaments in the world – if you go in as favourites it comes with massive expectations.
“Fans, supporters, media, sponsors… it’s how you react to that expectation, but they’ve got a great coach and they’ve got good leadership in the team so I’m sure they’ll be able to handle it. But there’s always that question there…”
Jones is challenged on his assertion that England are now outsiders for the Six Nations, but he’s not giving an inch.
“Well, if you read the press – which I do – Ireland have got a centrally-contracted system, their players are in great nick, their three provinces have done well in the European club system.
“England have all these injuries and we don’t have central contracting. We’re lucky to have one side in the European club championship [quarter-finals]. So how can we compete?”
Jones claims that the media are writing England off on the basis of injuries – the likes of Billy Vunipola, Elliot Daly, Chris Robshaw, Nathan Hughes, Henry Slade, Ellis Genge, Kyle Sinckler, Jack Nowell, Mike Brown are currently out or doubts – but says he can’t do anything about how players report to him from club duty.
“I can’t control anything,” said Jones. “I’m not Donald Trump. I can’t build a wall between us and the clubs and ring-fence the players.
“All I can do is get the players and get them in the best physical condition and the best mental and physical state we can. The coaching team work with the leadership team of the players and bring forward the strongest team we can onto the field.
“You can only put 15 players on the field. I know that the 15 we put on the field against Italy in Rome will do England proud.”
Schmidt isn’t buying into Jones’ sob story for a second, pointing out that Ireland have a similarly lengthy injury list.
“Look, we’ve got 13 guys injured. We’ve got Sean O’Brien and Rhys Ruddock who add to our back row – as much as we’re excited about the back rows we’ve selected. We’ve got guys like Jared Payne, who was pivotal to us last time we won the Six Nations in 2015.
“You can always reflect on who you’re missing, but you focus on who you’ve got because they’re the guys who will make the difference. I know Eddie is excited about the people he’s got, he’s just not telling you that.”
And though Jones is questioned again about where his perception that England are being written off is coming from, he continues down the same line stubbornly.
“We’re going to need to be more hungry,” said Jones. “That’s why we don’t mind these other teams being spoken about as the darlings of European rugby, because it gives us something to chase.
“We’ve got to be the hungriest team in the tournament to win and that’s what we’re aiming to be.”
Poor old England. Maybe Jones just wants to be loved?
“We can’t tell whether we’re darlings or not. All I can remember is last year we won every game apart from one and our rugby was rubbish!”
And so, it’s Jones and England against the world. It would be thrilling for the championship to come down to the final weekend in Twickenham, Jones’ side against the ‘favourites’ Ireland. Does the England boss see 17 March in London as being the decider?
“Who knows? I’m sure all Ireland are worried about is the tricky game they’ve got first up against France. That’s a tricky game,” said Jones.
“I wouldn’t like to be playing France first with Jacques Brunel in charge of that team. You don’t know what they’re going to produce. I’m sure Joe’s got his side concentrating on that.”
As for Schmidt – why doesn’t he answer Jones’ grenades in kind? The Ireland coach claims it’s because he’s no liar.
“No, I honestly try to be honest and just say it as I see it,” said Schmidt.
Originally published at 01.00
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