England braced for ‘brutal’ Six Nations battle

Eddie Jones has warned that England may be broke off the field but will be brutal on it in their pursuit of Ireland’s Guinness Six Nations crown.

England coach Eddie Jones.
England coach Eddie Jones.

Jones and Warren Gatland met for a curry in London on the eve of the tournament’s launch in south west London, with England’s head coach revealing that the Wales boss picked up the bill.

England’s first assignment is against Ireland in Dublin and although Twickenham has reported annual losses of £30.9m, Jones insists his Championship title contenders are ready to sweep all before them.

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“Our dinner was good,” said Jones. “We chatted about rugby, the state of New Zealand rugby, the state of Welsh rugby, the state of English rugby.

“If you have been in the game a while, you are concerned about where the game is going. Sometimes there’s a chance to have a chat about that.

“We chatted about how refereeing could improve. That took a couple of curries!

“The Wales manager chose the win – he was paying the bill because we’ve got no money.

“Ireland are the best team in the world and when we play them at their home it will be a brutal game. If we’re more brutal than them, we’ll take the money.

“I’ve never seen a Six Nations game that was not brutal. Traditionally, if you look at Six Nations history over the years, it’s a big gain-line contest.

“The ball-in-play time is higher in the Six Nations than any other tournament in the world. You’ve got to be prepared for it. We’ll be prepared.”

The 2019 Six Nations could be the last for Jones, Gatland and Ireland boss Joe Schmidt as their contracts end after the World Cup, but England’s boss insists the potential loss of three coaching greats will have little influence on how the Six Nations unfolds.

“All the teams are focused on training well and how they can be at their best for the first game,” Jones said. “No one is thinking, ‘this is going to be his last game, what are we going to do special for him?’. We’re talking about the most highly motivated, most professional players in Europe playing for their countries. They don’t need special things to want to be better.

“There’s a sign at the Six Nations launch saying it’s the greatest tournament in the world.

“Four years ago I wouldn’t have said that, but having been involved in it there’s nothing like this tournament.

“The intensity, the contest, how much it means to people, it’s a real honour to be involved in it.”

When asked if he would miss the Six Nations, Jones said: “I might be in it for another 10 years, who knows? I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Owen Farrell is confident he will be fit to lead England against Ireland in Dublin.

Farrell on Saturday underwent surgery to repair a damaged tendon in his thumb, casting doubt over his involvement against Schmidt’s champions at the Aviva Stadium on February 2.

Saracens have stated he will need seven to 10 days to recover but Farrell expects to be fully involved in the squad’s pre-tournament camp in Portugal that begins in earnest on Friday.

“It’s fine. I’m hoping to train the end of this week so should be good. I’m not concerned, I was always told it would be quick,” Farrell said. “It was always a short turnaround so should be fine. It couldn’t be delayed, I needed it done.

“It’s not even a repair, a little thing done to my thumb tendon that releases a bit of pressure of it.”

As skipper, playmaker-in-chief, goalkicker and talisman, Farrell’s fitness is key to English hopes of causing an upset in a title-shaping showdown.

Hooker Dylan Hartley, Farrell’s co-captain, and flanker Chris Robshaw have been sidelined by knee injuries, leaving Jones without two trusted on-field lieutenants.

If Farrell fails to recover in time, George Ford will start at fly-half and would also be the main contender to lead the team with Maro Itoje an alternative for the role. Despite the injury scare, Jones has opted against calling up any cover at 10 for the nine-day camp in the Algarve.

“I’m confident Owen is going to play and we’ve got George there as well so we’re well stocked for 10s,” Jones said.

Wasps forwards Joe Launchbury (neck), Brad Shields (side strain) and Nathan Hughes (ankle) are carrying knocks sustained against Leinster on Sunday but Jones refused to elaborate on their fitness.

“We get together today (Wednesday). If we trained today we’d have 34 out of 36 available because a couple are still sore after the weekend,” Jones said.

Ireland coach Schmidt revealed that when passing Jones in the venue for the Six Nations launch the Australian joked: “Get ready for a few grenades”.

When asked to elaborate, Jones responded: “They’re in Portugal, we’re in Portugal. I’m going to the airport now and buying a pair of binoculars.”

On facing Ireland, Jones added: “Whether it’s the biggest game of the tournament or not doesn’t really matter because our job is the same – our job is to prepare well and be the best we can be.

“There’s two contests against Ireland – one in the air and one on the ground - and we’ve got to win both of those to win the game.

“We’ll pick a side that can win the battle on the ground and the battle in the air. Whether they’re big and ugly or small and cute I don’t know yet.”