Wednesday 12 December 2018

Ireland are the best team in Europe, but we owe them one - Eddie Jones

Jones: “The referee said it was good. When he says it’s not good, we’ll have a chat about it.” Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Jones: “The referee said it was good. When he says it’s not good, we’ll have a chat about it.” Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Jack de Menezes

The painful memory of watching Ireland celebrate a Grand Slam at Twickenham will fuel England's desire to win at the Aviva in February - and beat what they feel is the best team in the world.

England are rejuvenated from an autumn series that has seen them win three from four and lose to New Zealand by just one point, but Ireland remain the team to beat after an unblemished campaign that included their second win over the All Blacks in two years.

It is set up to be a mouth-watering clash that, unusually, comes on the opening weekend of the championship.

But that will not reduce what is at stake, with Jones turning his attentions towards Ireland in what is very much a revenge mission as England seek a first win in Dublin since 2013, at the end of Declan Kidney's reign.

"We owe them one," Jones said after the 37-18 victory over Australia wrapped up England's hit-and-miss 2018 with six wins and six losses.

"I'm not worried about winning the Six Nations, I'm worried about Ireland.

"We just need to keep getting better. We play them first up so it's the most important game we've got coming forward.

"They're the top team in Europe now. We want to be the top team in Europe. It's pretty simple."

It will be a belting start to the championship, given Ireland are very quickly becoming England's bogey team.

Sure, Scotland and France also beat them earlier this year, but it was Ireland who halted their winning run under Eddie Jones in March 2017 with a dominant display in Dublin, and it was Ireland who never really looked like losing when the two met on the final weekend of this year's edition.

"It's difficult," said hooker Jamie George after putting in arguably his best performance in an England shirt against Australia. "A huge amount of respect to them, in my eyes they're the best team in the world at the moment; they've got a great playing group that's well coached."

Jones, meanwhile, was again forced to defend out-half Owen Farrell. Just as the dust settled on his last-ditch shoulder charge on South Africa's Andre Esterhuizen - which Australia coach Michael Cheika claimed was reviewed at a recent World Rugby referees' meeting to demonstrate an unacceptable tackle - he landed himself in a fresh storm with a similar shoulder-charge on Izack Rodda when the Wallabies lock was on the verge of scoring.

The tackle, which was not referred to the television match official by Jaco Peyper, much to Cheika's fury, has been widely condemned, but Jones stood by his captain and he is not about to tell him to change his ways.

"The referee said it was good. When he says it's not good, we'll have a chat about it," Jones said.

"When you hit people hard, you place yourself at risk. And he hits people hard. I like people being hit hard.

"There's a judgement area all the time in that. Obviously we want to be within the laws. Owen doesn't try to tackle outside of the laws so he'll keep on working on that." (© Independent News Service)

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