Tuesday 27 September 2016

Sinead Kissane: Eddie Jones' trash talk crossed the line

Published 27/02/2016 | 02:30

I wonder what England head coach Eddie Jones would think today if one of his players knocks Johnny Sexton to the ground in a brutal off-the-ball hit like Yoann Maestri did to the Ireland out-half during the France two weeks ago?

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Would he think, 'Gotcha!'?

Would he think, 'I warned you Johnny, mate'?

Or would he think of how worried Sexton's mother and father would be about their son's well-being?

Or why stop with his parents. Would he think of Sexton's wife sitting at home watching the game on TV with their son and new-born baby girl?

This week Jones crossed the line from harmless trash-talker to a guy who engaged in scaremongering with his comments about Sexton.

"They've talked about him having whiplash injuries, which is not a great thing to talk about. I'm sure his mother and father would be worried about that," Jones said on Thursday.

"If you're saying that a guy has got whiplash, then he's had a severe trauma. If you've had severe trauma then you've got to worry about the welfare of the player. I'd be worried about him. We've got the best medical staff in England, we'll make the best decision. I'm sure Ireland have done the same."

Doctor Jones then smoothly segued from telling everyone about his prognosis on Sexton's well-being to telling everyone that he's as good as given the go-ahead to his players to go after the number 10 today.

Is that called irony, Eddie? Because if you target a player, the suggestion is you want to stop or hurt the player and that would be the same player who you just expressed concern about.

"We target players all the time. That's part of rugby isn't it? I'm not saying Sexton is a weak defender, but we're going to target players because we want to win. He's hardly a shrinking violet," Jones stated this week.

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Since when has it become acceptable that a head coach of an opposing team thinks he has a right to publicly pontificate on the health, well-being and future of a player - who has a history of concussion - two days before the teams play each other in a Six Nations game?

Since when has it become acceptable that a head coach thinks he has a right to talk about what he imagines the parents of the player are feeling?

England head coach Eddie Jones. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA
England head coach Eddie Jones. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA

Do you have direct lines to Mr and Mrs Sexton, Eddie? Who are you to say what you think they're feeling and then tell the world about it? Are you some sort of mouthpiece for the Sexton family all of a sudden?

But this wasn't your typical version of mind games Eddie, was it? This was a deplorable attempt to strike some fear and upset into Sexton's family and everyone else by publicly questioning the state of his health.

This was an attempt to try and get inside Sexton's head, to get personal with him by bringing his parents into the equation and play on any doubt or fear which could be hiding in Sexton's mind just days before a big game.

"It can be pretty frustrating when people are diagnosing you that have absolutely no idea of what's going on behind the scenes, how or what condition you're in," Sexton said in an answer in reply to Jones comments about him.

"Look it is very frustrating when they're talking about concussion which is a very serious issue".

Thing is, Jones spoke about the England players targeting Sexton on the pitch today but Jones (above) already begun the public targeting of Sexton himself. He highlighted Sexton's health and went after it irrespective of the fact that he tried to wrap it up as a "concern" for him.

But it came off as an attempt to try to break Sexton mentally before letting the players go after him physically today.

Say it ain't so, Eddie.

When we spoke to Sexton two weeks ago about being targeted by the French, he put it down to the French media stirring it up. But here we have the England head coach making sure there's little lost in translation.

We're not being naive, we know Sexton has been a bullseye for opposition teams for years. But when the head coach starts publicly mouthing off about targeting him, then just what the hell is he saying to his players behind the scenes?

If someone roared at you down the street "we're coming after you" in a threatening manner, then that could be labelled as threatening behaviour.

But in rugby, it seems your alibi is that it's all part of the game. Publicly saying that you're going to target a player in a pre-meditated fashion is almost tantamount to a form of intimidation, especially so when it's said in the context of a brutal game of Test rugby where cheap hits can be confused with aggression and committing to the tackle.

Targeting players in illegal, late or off-the-ball tackles - assault is one word they call it away from the rugby pitch - raises rugby's worrying attitude of winning at all costs.

But rugby officials have a lot to answer for too. We love getting on our high horse in rugby about the respect the players have for the referees with "Yes Sir" and "Yes Your Highness" the only level of name-calling you're ever likely to hear.

But some refs should be reminded of the respect they need to show players. Like concern for players' safety on the pitch, which seemed to go missing in action on a few occasions during Ireland's game with France too weeks ago. I doubt Romain Poite will have a similarly laissez-faire attitude today between England and Ireland.

I hope we get a fair and competitive Six Nations game at Twickenham. I hope we see a Sexton on the controlled side of fired-up. I hope he answers any doubts which may have crept into his head. I hope Jones didn't get into his head.

I hope Sexton does something like kick a winning drop-goal and as it sails over the sweet spot only then may he allow a retort in his mind to Jones: Gotcha.

Irish Independent

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