Eddie Jones has questioned the legality of the Irish scrum on the eve of a showdown at Twickenham that he has billed as England’s biggest game of the year. The coach has also astutely commented on the composition of the visiting team, saying that he enjoyed hearing them describe it as the “United Nations” based on the number of Southern Hemisphere-raised players involved.
Jones, always keen to give Irish stew a vigorous pre-game stir, is well aware that the scrum will be a key area for French referee Pascal Gaüzère and does not want Irish header Andrew Porter to win as many penalties as he does. against Wales in Dublin last week.
“He scrums in a rather unusual way that may require referee intervention, so we’ll wait and see,” Jones said. “We have a referee who generally doesn’t reward dominant scrums, so it will be interesting to see how he looks in that area. We will have to adapt to your calls; There’s no use scrumming if you can’t get a result. “
While Jones is shrewd enough not to make direct accusations of cheating – “I’ll leave that to the referee” – he clearly feels it is worth planting a seed of doubt in Gaüzère’s mind, no matter that such scrum mind games have traditionally been reserved for matches with Australia, nor that England have experienced relatively few recent problems in the match with three strong wins in a row.
Pausing only to pretend to forget the name of the local stadium in Ireland – “It’s like when we go to Lansdowne Road, or whatever the business name is now …” – Jones also didn’t need a second invitation to offer some insights into the fact that that a third of the away team, Bundee Aki, James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park from New Zealand and CJ Stander and Quinn Roux from South Africa, are qualified for Ireland through residency.
England have sacked more than a few players over the years under the same three-year regulation, but anything that might make Ireland flinch a bit en route to London appears to be fair play this week.
“I heard someone call them the United Nations, so I laughed a little,” Jones said, with a wolfish grin. “I can understand how the Irish would be upset that Irish-born players were lost. But they are the laws and regulations of international rugby; they are simply complying with the regulations. “
The biggest irony is that England is coached by an Australian and Ireland by one of the greatest rugby league players of all time, Andy Farrell. Jones, however, expects the men in green to be enthusiastic regardless of their birthplace, especially in the tackle area, where he calls them “the best poaching team in Europe.”
It explains a heavy duty England starting group, with only one change from forwards who beat New Zealand in Japan last year. Joe Launchbury has earned the nod in the second row this time, and management belatedly revealed that Jonny Hill suffered a blow to the head in a training session before last week’s Georgia game.
The Exeter lockdown, consequently, must be content with a spot on the bench where George Ford, Ben Earl and Max Malins are among a potentially exciting group of so-called “finalists.”
Jonathan Joseph also retains his place in the band with young Ollie Lawrence in the middle, but otherwise England are very experienced in almost every position and are eager to get things going after largely one-sided wins against Italy and Georgia.
“Unfortunately, in rugby, you never get an advantage from the previous game,” Jones said. “It would be nice if you had five minutes to play without an opponent, but you don’t have it, so it always goes back to where you started.
“His diligence in observing his team and making sure he has done things right never stops. We got a lesson in the World Cup final about that. Every battle is tough. In 2017 we were doing well and Ireland beat us in a grand slam. We will never forget him.
“These are countries of different sizes with different histories, but the traditional rivalry is huge and must be respected. They will be well prepared and will come to Twickenham with a point to prove, which always makes them dangerous.
“It is a big step forward from what we have found in the last two games. Any England-Ireland game that I have been associated with has always been a front-line competition. I don’t see that this is any different. “
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