Saturday 17 March 2018

Jones ponders whether to 'whip, kick cuddle or kiss' his players

Back-row battle key as England bid to extend record run in Cardiff cauldron

Eddie Jones in conversation with Jack Clifford at squad training. Photo: PA
Eddie Jones in conversation with Jack Clifford at squad training. Photo: PA

Mick Cleary

Eddie Jones has used every trick at his disposal in the build-up to this most volatile of fixtures to draw the best from his own men and to needle Wales, disclosing that he had to decide whether to "whip, kick, cuddle or kiss" his players to get the sort of performance from them that might extend England's record-breaking run of wins.

It is as well that the Principality Stadium roof is open for Jones is in search of the 'bang' that was promised and never materialised last weekend at Twickenham and has urged his players to address that lack of dynamism.

From mind games to mine games as England look for an explosive start.

"It is important that we play with commitment, ferocity and desire because we have so many supporters out there that we want to show them that in every game," said the England head coach.

"In any team, you have got 80 per cent that will do anything to win and then you have got 10 per cent who are perfect players - the George Fords and Owen Farrells that go away and practise. Then you have the other 10 per cent where you have got to find a way.

"You have got to either whip them, kick them, cuddle them or kiss them. But you have got to find some way to get a better performance."

Jones has opted for a tough love regime. There is little doubt that his players have embraced both him and his provocative persona, with their cussed, sassy, sharp, edgy way of playing, much in the manner of the man himself, in the course of their impressive run of success.

England will need all those attributes if they are to win at the Principality and continue their quest for a defence of their Grand Slam title.


Wales, even with the possible late withdrawal of Lions wing George North, have favouritism on their side due primarily to home advantage (they have not lost a Six Nations game in Cardiff in two years) and a vastly more experienced, proven back row.

Jones needs to find something else, either tangible or imagined, to make up for the shortfall. He has been a master of doing just that over the past year.

Whatever it takes, palatable or not, has always been his mantra. The Australian has been looking to wind up the opposition only to have the same effect on his own players.

All that Borat-style guff about 'daffodils and goats' will irk some in Wales, that faux-hostility and patronising tone principally designed for internal consumption rather than as an external rebuke.

The only criteria that matters to Jones is whether it has the desired effect on his team. Same grass. Same dimensions. Same air. Same ball.

The refrain from Jones has been constant. Do not be spooked. It is a game, just like the preceding 14 when he has been in charge. Take control.

On that rests so much. England did not impose themselves up front against France, neither at set-piece, which was fractured and inconsistent, nor in the collisions.

Well, not until the later stages when the big beasts of the bench, James Haskell and Ben Te'o, were unleashed.

Jones has taken to rebranding these such players as "finishers", the guys brought on to apply the coup de grace after their mates have done the softening up.

That aspect of England's play, and their enhanced conditioning levels, could come into play again.

Wales will have to kill off England for they have shown time and again that they do not cede lightly.

They may struggle, they may lack for clean possession, territory as well, but on the only reckoner that matters, the scoreboard, they have consistently come up trumps.

And even though it is wholly legitimate to wonder if England's callow trio can match the nous and collective understanding of Wales's back row, it is also only right to point out that rookie call-up, Jack Clifford, captained the England U-20 side who won a world title in 2013 with Wales No 8 Ross Moriarty alongside him, that Maro Itoje, press-ganged to the blindside slot, was European Player of the Year, while Wasps' Nathan Hughes has been a standout performer in the Premiership.


The English threesome are also heavier and heftier. In this key battleground, England may be novices there but they have plenty to offer.

Jones has pepped up his team not only with rhetoric but also with the changes he has made.

Clifford has pace. What he has to find is presence. So, too, do others, such as captain Dylan Hartley and locks Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes.

If the second-row pairing can rekindle the form of the autumn, it will be a big boost for England's cause.

In the other change Jack Nowell reappears, a measured decision given that this Wales team under Rob Howley have more width and variety in their game.

The Exeter wing offers more in the way of work-rate and understanding than Jonny May.

"Wales want to regenerate that style of play," observed Jones.

"They will look to pass the ball more even though they retain that [Warren] Gatland hardness about them."

The match is well poised. Both teams have exceptional goal-kickers, Farrell and Leigh Halfpenny, albeit England have the added benefit of a long-range boomer in Elliot Daly.

Jones is convinced that England will improve from their indifferent display against France.

All the hokum about the roof, the "shenanigans", is there to energise his team.

England will need to have a full National Grid of vigour and vitality if they are to prevail. And if they do, it will be another significant landmark for this team.

Wales v England, RTÉ 2, ITV today 4.50

WALES - L Halfpenny; G North, J Davies, S Williams, L Williams; D Biggar, R Webb; R Evans, K Owens, T Francis; J Ball, AW Jones (c); S Warburton, J Tipuric, R Moriarty

Reps: S Baldwin, N Smith, S Lee, C Hill, T Faletau, G Davies, S Davies, J Roberts.

ENGLAND - M Brown; J Nowell, J Joseph, O Farrell, E Daly; G Ford, B Youngs; J Marler, D Hartley (c), D Cole; J Launchbury, C Lawes; M Itoje, J Clifford, N Hughes. Reps: J George, M Mullan, K Sinckler, T Wood, J Haskell, D Care, B Te'o, J May.

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport