Jones provokes Ireland ahead of England home debut

LONDON • Eddie Jones has never been shy of voicing an opinion and the Australian was at it again ahead of his home debut as England coach, against Ireland in the Six Nations at Twickenham today.

For starters, the former Australia and Japan coach called defending Six Nations champions Ireland "risk-averse", saying they kick some 60 per cent of their ball away.

"It has worked for them," he said.

"It is not the way I think you should play rugby but it has been successful for them. They minimise their risk. They are a risk-averse team as they kick the ball so much."

As if that was not provocative enough, he made it clear he would have no problems with England going after Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton. On one level, this was an obvious statement - teams routinely look to close down a key opposition playmaker such as Sexton.

But the fact Jones suggested Sexton's parents should be concerned for the health of the stand-off, who has a long history of concussion problems, may not have gone down well. Ireland were adamant the goal-kicker had suffered whiplash rather than a head injury in this month's bruising 10-9 defeat by France.

"We target players all the time," Jones said. "There are 15 players out there. Are we supposed to not run at one player?

"I'm not saying Sexton is weak. Maybe France did. We're going to target players in the Ireland side."

England have won both their opening matches under Jones, defeating two of the Six Nations weaker teams in Scotland (15-9) and Italy (40-9).

Ireland have yet to win this season after starting their title defence with a 16-16 draw against Wales.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, who has come under fire from some Irish fans for too heavy a reliance on an aerial, power-orientated game, has made five changes in all to the team edged out by France.

But they will still have enough on-field experience to give England their sternest test yet.

Jones' England team have kicked even more ball away than Ireland, but the key issue is how well the tactic is used.

England's "dual" fly-half strategy of playing both George Ford and Owen Farrell gives them kicking options but Ireland powerhouse centre Stuart McCloskey will be keen to mark his international debut by testing the pair's midfield defence.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ENGLAND V IRELAND
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2016, with the headline 'Jones provokes Ireland ahead of England home debut'. Print Edition | Subscribe