Eddie Jones believes Sunday’s “titanic clash” with Ireland will be a battle for European supremacy with England seeking to stay in the hunt for the Six Nations title.
Ireland are bidding to win the triple crown at Twickenham and while Wales won the grand slam last year, Jones sees Sunday’s match as a head to head between players seeking to establish themselves as the top dogs in Europe. “They have a number of players who aspire to be No 1 in Europe and we have a number of guys in our team who aspire to be No 1 in Europe,” said Jones. “I think that means it will be a bit of a titanic clash.”
Jones’s team selection on Friday raised a number of eyebrows but he has set his stall out with five locks part of his 23-man squad. Maro Itoje starts alongside George Kruis and the England head coach believes the former can rediscover his best form against Ireland, having endured a post-World Cup slump. “I think he’s getting back to his best,” added Jones. “He will definitely be at his best on Sunday. We have seen each week he has progressed. I think the World Cup took a lot out of our boys, and then having to come back and play consistently for their clubs has been difficult for them. But that’s part of the deal. Now I think we will see the best of some of our players.”
Courtney Lawes also starts for England, coming back into the side at blindside flanker, having sat out the narrow victory over Scotland last time out. Lawes was sporting a black eye after taking a blow in training on Thursday but insisted he will be ready for the physical battle. “It’s just a boo-boo! Nothing too crazy. It’s all fine, just a clash, my head on something,” said Lawes, who equals Martin Johnson’s mark of 84 caps – the England record for a second‑row. “I’m hoping it will go down a bit.
“We’re expecting a pretty physical battle. Up front they have got a really good pack, a big pack, so that is a big area for us to front up and show we want it. We want to get out there and get at them. I’m really looking forward to it. Playing at Twickenham can be a big advantage, but it can also turn against you if you don’t get it quite right.”
England’s campaign has yet to take off after their defeat by France was followed by a torrid contest in dreadful conditions against Scotland. Jones has claimed that his side have returned to their World Cup levels of intensity however, and the hooker Jamie George is expecting considerable improvements. “We know we need to win if we’re going to win the title, but we’re not thinking too much about that because we’re aware we need to win every game,” said George. “We didn’t get off to the best start but we laid some foundations against Scotland and we’re expecting to produce a different level to what you’ve seen already in this Six Nations.”
Ireland were forced into a late change on Friday with Devin Toner coming into the side in place of Iain Henderson, who withdrew because of the birth of his son. Toner was a surprise omission from Ireland’s World Cup squad but was part of the side that won the grand slam at Twickenham two years ago. “It is the pinnacle of your career to play a game for Ireland at Twickenham,” said Toner. “We won the grand slam here, which was huge. They obviously got on top of us the last time. There is always going to be a fear factor away from home and this is their first game back here so they will have something to prove.
“They haven’t fired a shot yet with the weather against Scotland and the loss to France. We will have to get everything right as we know they are a hugely physical team from the one they have picked. They will come after us early.
“Maro is one of the best in the world in the second row so it’s always good coming up against the best. It’s a real test for me.”