Eddie Jones focusing on progress but Ireland match could be defining moment in England’s rebuild

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ddie Jones and England find themselves on the brink of yet another pivotal moment.

Lose to Ireland at Twickenham tomorrow and they face a second successive fifth place in the Six Nations with a trip to Paris next week to take on a potentially Grand Slam-chasing France.

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Jones has already partially used the build-up to this weekend to prepare himself and his players for a fall.

Should it be a second defeat of this Six Nations in just four matches, England’s head coach said he was still confident England are “making good progress, we are still developing as a team and we will learn from that. We don’t need to worry about that at this stage”.

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But back-to-back fifth places 18 months out from the World Cup would be an uncomfortable position for Jones and his players.

He has tried to label England as underdogs while wheeling out the fact that various former players — Irish and English — and even a barista who served him a coffee this week have earmarked the visitors as the red-hot favourites.

Jones has repeatedly pushed the mantra of Ireland being the most cohesive side in world rugby, and clearly holds Andy Farrell, his former Saracens player and Ireland’s coach, in high regard.

A new-look England have not quite clicked in this tournament. They had all the possession and initially panache against Scotland but failed to make it count, tailed off against Italy and very nearly came unstuck against a Welsh fightback.

Against Ireland, they face a better drilled and better calibre team than all three on the evidence of this Six Nations, as well as a stauncher defence.

Jones will be hoping this is the game when things finally click into place with the young attacking trio of Harry Randall, Marcus Smith and Freddie Steward.

“We’re not far away,” was Jones’s pre-match assessment. “We’re one pass, one accurate kick, one good support line away from being very good. But we’re a work in progress.

“We’ve increased our run metres in 12 months by 40 per cent. We’re really pleased with the way that is going but that is not converting into tries. The game’s always about scoring tries, but that will come. We’d like that to be this week but, if not, it might be next week. If it’s not next week, it might be on the Australian tour, but it’s coming. It’s like that wave. You can see it coming and all of a sudden it crashes and all this power comes out of it. That’s what we’ll be like.”

Eddie Jones focusing on progress but Ireland match could be defining moment in England’s rebuild

PA

This England side do not lack for power. Sam Simmonds is back at No8 in a pack including forces such as Maro Itoje, illness permitting, Courtney Lawes and props Kyle Sinckler and Ellis Genge. And with such weapons, he has promised to go after Ireland, get in their faces and disrupt the breakdown.

Since 2010, Ireland have beaten England just once at Twickenham in the Six Nations, a victory in 2018 far more resounding than the 24-15 scoreline suggested.

And for all Jones’s assessment that the pundits have it as an Irish win and nothing else, former Ireland centre Gordon D’Arcy may have dispelled the idea of a Fortress Twickenham but still talked up England’s chances.

“In my experience, we never feared playing England in their backyard but, despite being mentally attuned for the most part, Ireland wins at Twickenham were far from commonplace,” he said. “Ireland need to be excellent and, if they are, it will still be close. It’s always been that way.”

The loss to Ireland in last year’s Six Nations was recently branded a line-in-the-sand moment by Charlie Ewels as Jones decided some players were now surplus to requirements.

Right now, England are in the infancy of that rebuilding phase, one Jones seems genuinely excited by.

“The team doesn’t know how good they can be and we’re certainly going to find out on Saturday how good we can be,” he said. How dearly he would love that moment to be tomorrow.

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