Eddie Jones and his players are determined to soften expectations as half of the flight says England will « leave it all » in their last six-nation game.
Is this a dead rubber or the decisive game the Six Nations Campaign in England? A UK & Irish Lions audition or a renewal of Anglo-Irish rivalries that doesn’t need extra narration to get the juices flowing? It is not always easy to put English games into context. The impressive performance against France last weekend kept the critics in check and – winning, losing or drawing in Dublin on Saturday – the chance to return home and see families afterwards will quickly put the result in perspective .
However, listen to the noises coming out of the warehouse in England this week and you won’t feel like an exhibition game is to be expected. Many of those watching from home would enjoy a replay of the last time England kicked off their final six-nation game with neither side to claim the title – the 38:38 draw against Scotland in the Year 2019 – but you have a feeling Eddie Jones wouldn’t.
The England head coach has a pretty good idea of when he’s going to make headlines, so his « rat poison » sting is less likely to be a reaction was based on criticism that had angered him, rather than an attempt to channel the spirit between us and the world that serves his side as well as it did against France last week. Jones and his players were determined to temper expectations. Just because they broke the shackles last Saturday doesn’t mean they’ll do it again this time. « Abrasion » instead of ambition or adventure was the buzzword this week.
« Against a really tough team like Ireland, the first thing you have to do is gain the physicality of the game, and that’s what we talked about this week, » said English fly half George Ford « I think we have a good package to do business with in this regard. »
At least, given his performance against France, he no longer speaks of the ball being a « ticking time bomb » or, to be fair, playing that way.
England have won their last four games against Ireland – all in a comprehensive way – but Jones will be aware that the win in Dublin will definitely ensure that the glass is half full when the curtain falls on a campaign that began in such difficult circumstances. In fact, the best way to put this game into context is to say that it marks the end of England’s post-World Cup chapter.
It remains unclear what exactly England’s summer plans will be, but Jones will be without a sizeable group of players get along with the Lions. As a result, the next time he can pick his first choice squad, it will be fall when the 2019 World Cup has disappeared in the rearview mirror and the 2023 tournament is just around the corner. Accordingly, style points or too much advance planning are not on the agenda in Dublin.
Not for the first time since the World Cup, Jones this week urged his players to correct the injustice of their preparation for the final against South Africa after they did in the week had previously performed a commendable job. It’s clearly a motivational tactic and again shows the stage of the cycle where Jones still sees his side. Don’t expect to hear it when England returns in the autumn, however.
« We see it as a return to Wales [loss] and we knew we had two of the best teams in Europe to play in France and Ireland », said Ford. “We wanted to do some brilliant work to get two wins. Imagine a good performance out there. We had some disappointing performances early in the tournament, but when we came back you couldn’t ask for two more competitive and challenging games. «
Perhaps there will be a cathartic release above all. There will have been some novelty among players just getting on a plane to travel to Dublin this week and no doubt a relief that their time is in. » The hope is that there will be a much more normal camp feeling in the fall and at the beginning of the next chapter.
« We want to leave everything outside, no matter, » said Ford. « It’s our last game together for a while. We’ve talked about all of these things to make sure we get the most of them. To keep it out emotionally, we’ll do that as a team. It has now been almost nine weeks since we were under these Covid restrictions and there are guys with families and children. People miss their home very much. «
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