LONDON • England rugby union coach Eddie Jones led the media on a merry dance as he gave two alternative explanations for a cut and badly bruised eye that led to him attending Wednesday's official launch of the Six Nations championship wearing a large bandage.
The Australian first said he had fallen in his hotel bathroom earlier in the day but later changed his story. He joked: "We've had judo then MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) - we're going through the martial arts.
"Actually I slipped over in the hotel this morning. I walked out of the shower, I forgot to shave, and I went over."
It seemed an unlikely explanation given the bruise around his black eye and he switched tack later in the day during an interview.
"It was a tough old training camp," he said, having just returned from England's preparations in Portugal. "I just slipped over and got my head cut at training. It's just one of those things. I slipped over and got hit, nothing too drastic."
Asked who had hit him, Jones said: "I don't know, I'll have a look at the video later."
Jones was accompanied at the press conference by hooker Dylan Hartley, who was confirmed as captain and is set to start England's Six Nations opener with France on Feb 4 despite not playing a match since his ban for a high tackle in a club game last December.
"I feel fresh, fit and focused," said Hartley. "I've had some time out - I know where I need to be."
He remained calm when asked if he feared his latest indiscretion might have put his captaincy in jeopardy. He said: "I've had a good reality check and I understand I'm privileged to be in this position. I made it harder for myself but I've reflected and worked hard."
Jones, who oversaw a perfect year in 2016 with 13 wins after taking over from Stuart Lancaster, is seeking a second straight Grand Slam as the Six Nations includes bonus points for the first time.
The tournament could be set for further changes following news that English clubs have called for it to be shortened from its existing seven-week schedule and played in a five-week window.
These plans from Premiership Rugby have been submitted as World Rugby prepares to meet in San Francisco next week for talks aimed at introducing a global season. Any change must be approved by the Six Nations committee before it becomes part of the global season matrix.
John Feehan, the Six Nations chief executive, has maintained from the outset of the global-season debate that it was critical, for broadcasting and commercial reasons, that the tournament did not move to later in the year from its traditional February-March window.
A final agreement on the make-up of the new global season, to be implemented after the 2019 World Cup, is expected to be made by the World Rugby council in May. If the Six Nations schedule does change, it would be likely to come into force in 2020.
The commercial value of the Six Nations is sky-rocketing, with the tournament's new title sponsorship deal expected to be worth £87 million (S$156 million) over six years.
REUTERS, THE TIMES, LONDON