Sunday 20 October 2019

Determined Jones targets payback for bitter defeat to Scotland

England head coach Eddie Jones. Photo: Adam Davy/PA
England head coach Eddie Jones. Photo: Adam Davy/PA

Gavin Mairs

Eddie Jones declared that he had as little interest in the machinations over a new Nations Championship that have dominated headlines this week as in the Cheltenham Festival.

It seems the England head coach has only one thing on his mind and he is determined that the Scotland side who arrive at Twickenham today, seeking their first win there since 1983, will pay the price.

Jones has said he has not forgotten how he and his side were treated at Murrayfield last year, when Scotland inflicted a surprise defeat that would derail his side to such an extent that England finished in fifth place in the Six Nations.

The niggle between the sides had even begun before kick-off, then there were the ugly incidents involving Jones when he was abused on a train and at a station following his side's Calcutta Cup defeat.

Afterwards, Jones suggested that pre-match comments from former Scotland players such as Gavin Hastings had incited "certain behaviours".

The steely attitude of Jones this week suggests that irrespective of the fact that an England victory coupled with a Wales defeat by Ireland would see his side claim a third title in the fourth year of his tenure, he wants payback.

Will Carling, the former England captain, whose side lost a hostile Grand Slam match at Murrayfield in 1990, has been speaking to the players this week about the challenges of this fixture.

"Will plays a behind-the-scenes role in terms of just chatting to the players, but there's no secret," Jones said.

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"We're not playing Mars or Pluto, we're playing Scotland. They've got passion and play the game a certain way. We've got passion about playing for England. It'll be about which side comes out with most intensity and desire - and that'll be us."

Physical

The physical threat England can pose to Gregor Townsend's side may be diminished by Jones's decision to omit Joe Cokanasiga from the match-day squad, despite his power plays in the victory over Italy last Saturday.

So, too, the decision to drop Ben Te'o to the bench and switch Manu Tuilagi to inside centre to accommodate the return of Henry Slade.

The selection of Slade and Jack Nowell, who starts ahead of Cokanasiga, is in part to address the breakdown and passing threats of Scotland.

"It's horses for courses," Jones said.

"Scotland tend to pass the ball a lot more and we feel that Sladey's defensive qualities will suit the game."

As to how best to exploit the game-breaking prowess of Tuilagi, who thrived in the open spaces against Italy, Jones fired a further warning.

"The only time when you have set positions in the backline now is defending from first phase.

"Gone are the days when you pass from 10 to 12 to 13, because of the way defences and the way attacks are structured. They're basically playing as running backs.

"There was plenty of space at the weekend… if we can create momentum around the ruck I'd hate to be one of those Scottish backs."

England have had to adapt their game since losing Mako Vunipola and Maro Itoje to injury, but the return of Ben Moon to the front-row will add ballast to the scrum, another area in which Jones is hoping for a significant advantage, while Mark Wilson, the find of the season, will no doubt return like a coiled spring to the back-row.

The return of Finn Russell, England's nemesis last year, will add a twist, given his ability to carve out openings.

Yet even if there was not a possible title on the line, or a lingering sense of a revenge mission in the air, it is hard to look past a comfortable England victory.

England v Scotland

Live, Virgin Media 1/ITV, 5.0

England - E Daly; J Nowell, H Slade, M Tuilagi, J May; O Farrell, B Youngs; B Moon, J George, K Sinckler, J Launchbury, G Kruis, M Wilson, T Curry, B Vunipola. Rep: L Cowan-Dickie, E Genge, D Cole, B Shields, N Hughes, B Spencer, G Ford, B Te'o.

Scotland - S Maitland; D Graham, N Grigg, S Johnson, B McGuigan; F Russell, A Price; A Dell, S McInally, W Nel, B Toolis, G Gilchrist, S Skinner, H Watson, M Bradbury. Reps: F Brown, G Reid, S Berghan, J Gray, J Strauss, G Laidlaw, A Hastings, C Harris.

ref - P Williams (New Zealand).

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