Thursday 27 April 2017

Relentless Jones has Ireland in his sights

Obsession with being world's best driving England's run towards record

Eddie Jones has been receiving praise from all quarters for England’s superb run of form. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Eddie Jones has been receiving praise from all quarters for England’s superb run of form. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Tucked away from everything, England's plush Pennyhill Park base in Bagshot reveals itself as you walk up the driveway. Not that many walk; the cars in the drive are almost as impressive as the state of the art training centre, pitch and the hotel itself.

For years, everything about the venue screamed world class except the team it hosted. Eddie Jones has changed that.

On our last visit to this corner of Surrey, the All Blacks were in residence as they approached the World Cup final.

Ireland are on Jones' agenda this week, but he has New Zealand on his mind. The Six Nations title was secured in style against Scotland and the Grand Slam and a world record for successive wins will follow on Saturday if his side can win in Dublin.

He believes they will; his players appear to too. It's no surprise, they've just won their 18th game on the trot under the Australian, who has never tasted defeat in this job.

But it's not enough for Jones, whose obsession is with being the best team in the world.

Ireland boss Joe Schmidt
Ireland boss Joe Schmidt

The contrast with Joe Schmidt's approach is stark. At Ireland's base, everything is taken one moment at a time and talk of world rankings, World Cups, Six Nations titles and Grand Slams is frowned upon.

Skin

Jones doesn't normally do Monday press briefings unless he feels he can get an edge over an opposition coach. Last season his made-up statistics about Ireland's kicking game got under Schmidt's skin, while his comments about Johnny Sexton led to a subsequent apology but clearly annoyed the out-half.

Life is so good for England that even Steve Hansen is sending telegrams of congratulations.

"It's a bit like Red Riding Hood and the wolf when it comes dressed up as the grandmother," Jones says of the New Zealand coach's message. "When the All Blacks' coaches compliment you, you always have to be careful."

England won't face New Zealand until November, but there is no doubt that the world rankings don't lie. They are the two best teams in the game.

Read more: Eddie Jones: Ireland were the Six Nations favourites, they'll be "grossly disappointed"

Ireland thought they were in that company before the Six Nations kicked off, but what Jones described as a "grossly disappointing" defeat to Wales has undermined all of that.

Fourth in the rankings with one round to go until the 2019 World Cup draw is made, Ireland still have some convincing to do.

Unsurprisingly, Jones isn't too fussed with where Ireland are at.

"It doesn't worry us, mate. The only side above us in the rankings in the All Blacks so that's the only side we're worried about in terms of where they rank," he said.

"Ireland obviously are a very good side. They were favourites for the Six Nations, they've beaten the All Blacks so they are an outstanding team. We expect them to play well on Saturday.

"Our desire is to be the best team in the world so we don't need any external motivation. We don't need to go back and look at predictions in newspapers and talk about how we're not the best two teams in the world, we get our motivation from wanting to be the best team in the world and wanting to be better every day.

"It's easy for our players to get up in the morning because they want to get better every day."

Ireland may feel that their victory over New Zealand in November earned them a place on a higher plane, but Jones has been studying the form and doesn't sound too impressed.

Certainly, Ireland's inconsistency has not escaped his attention.

"I've watched that All Black game a lot because you learn a lot from any team that beats the best in the world," he said.

"That was in November. They have played six games since and have a 50pc win record. They are capable of playing really well and it is our job to make sure that they don't play well.

"We have to start with a strong game, with a lot of pressure in our game so that we won't give them an opportunity to play how they did against the All Blacks.

"It will be tough. To beat New Zealand you have to be a very, very good side and they were tactically brilliant that day.

"They controlled the game, took away a lot of what the All Blacks like to do and that is one of the great strengths of Joe Schmidt's coaching - he is tactically very smart, and I am sure they will have a plan for us on Saturday. We back ourselves."

Worryingly, having scored 61 points against Scotland, Jones sees similarities between Vern Cotter's team's defence and that of his close friend Schmidt.

"Scotland defended a certain way, not dissimilar to Ireland, so there are opportunities to get at Ireland in similar areas," he said.

This is not a new test for England, who were in the same position last season, travelling to Paris with the title in the bag and a Grand Slam to win.

Jones conceded that the situation made his side nervous last year and expects similar emotion on Saturday in the face of an Irish response to events in Cardiff.

Crucial

"The start is going to be crucial. Ireland will come with a lot of emotion," he said. "Disappointment builds aggression and seeing how Wales came back after Scotland and played against Ireland, we expect Ireland to be like that.

"We have got to be better than them. We have got to be more aggressive, more emotional in the right way, more committed, as well as smart and skilful, and that is how we are preparing.

"Playing Ireland away is traditionally one of the best games of rugby. It's always a difficult game because they have a robust crowd and a robust media who are big fans of the Ireland team. You're up against it and they're the sort of situations you love."

It's all part of the bigger picture for the Australian, who guided his home country to a World Cup final in 2003.

Completing back-to-back Grand Slams keeps his side on track for world domination.

Last Saturday, his team were phenomenal and he says knew a performance was coming after hosting a "cleansing" team meeting in Oxford in the wake of their struggle to deal with Italy two weeks previously.

"I thought we were always going to play well against Scotland - and I think we'll play better this week," he said.

"It was just about accepting that we've been successful. I think the English character. . . I don't like to talk about it because I'm not English. . . but to me they're quite reserved and they actually struggle quite a bit with success.

"I know the perception from the Celts is that it's the opposite: they think the English are arrogant. As an Australian I think the English are very polite and reserved. And they struggle to actually carry that success around.

"We had a great discussion, we have to acknowledge we've been successful and it's how much we want to be great now.

"How many opportunities in your life do you get to beat Ireland in Ireland to win back-to-back Grand Slams? It's almost a childhood dream as a rugby player.

"For us, everything is about the World Cup. It's another opportunity to get better on Saturday.

"It's important to win, otherwise you don't stay in the job and the players don't stay in their jerseys.

"Building towards a World Cup you want to develop a winning mentality. All these milestones along the way are nice but they're not things that we cherish. It's what we do in the future that matters. Saturday is what matters.

"If you look at where we are now, we've been together approximately eight weeks. You're together eight or nine weeks to get to a World Cup final.

"You get to the World Cup final and no-one's 100pc; everyone's carrying injuries. It's the team that prepares with the mindset that nothing's going to stop them to be at their best that wins the World Cup.

"It's a great dress rehearsal for us for the World Cup."

Ireland could take that as a compliment, but they know that to earn Jones' respect they have to get his attention and make him look over his shoulder.

Irish Independent

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