Eddie Jones lit the touchpaper on England’s Autumn Nations Cup showdown with Ireland on Saturday by accusing tighthead prop Andrew Porter of scrummaging “in a fairly unusual way” that should draw the attention of referee Pascal Gauzere.
Twickenham will host a match fit for the final this weekend as Ireland visit the capital looking to make up for last month’s failure to win the Six Nations title, which saw England beat them to top spot in the delayed Championship. With a three-game losing streak against the English also in the record books, Jones expects Andy Farrell’s side to arrive all guns blazing for the Group A encounter.
The Australian was in a provocative mood on Thursday after announcing his England side, which showed four changes from the team that thrashed Georgia 40-0, by laying down the challenge to the Irish to deliver a similar ‘dominant’ performance that they displayed against Wales last week against the Six Nations champions.
But he also highlighted the technique of Leinster prop Andrew Porter, who is deputising for injured clubmate Tadhg Furlong so far this season, and suggested that match official Gauzere will need to pay close attention to his efforts against Kyle Sinckler in the front row.
“The scrum contest is always challenging against Ireland,” Jones said. “We’ve got a referee on the weekend who generally doesn’t reward dominant scrums so it’ll be interesting to see how he looks at that area.
“We’ll need to be adaptable to his calls on it, it’s no use scrummaging if you can’t get a result out of it. But they’ve got a good scrum, (Cian) Healy’s played 100 caps at loosehead, so he’s got to be hugely respected.
“Porter’s done really well, he’s taken to Test rugby well, (and) scrums in a fairly unusual way which may need some referee intervention, so we’ll wait and see.”
Pushed further on what he meant by Porter’s “unusual” methods, Jones said: “I’ll leave that up to the referee mate.”
The comments will likely have no impact on how Gauzere officiates the set-piece unless England raise any concerns at today’s referee’s meeting, although he battle is poised to be a keenly contested one given how Jones’s side eclipsed the Georgian pack last week - one of the best-drilled scrums in the game - while Ireland humbled the Welsh pack into submission with a series of first-half penalties and the early withdrawal of loosehead prop Rhys Carre in an effort to address the issue.
Jones quipped on Thursday that he expects Ireland to set out this weekend with “a point to prove” in reference to their trio of consecutive defeats against his side, which has seen a fierce rivalry swing clearly in one direction. England opened the 2019 Six Nations campaign with a stunning victory in Dublin before a record 57-15 victory in their World Cup warm-up match in August, and followed it up with a dominant performance in February’s 24-12 Six Nations triumph.
But while that can be a source of momentum for England on top of the six-game winning streak they have behind them, Jones has all-too-fresh memories of the 2017 Six Nations Grand Slam defeat, when Ireland spoilt what was supposed to be a second Grand Slam in as many years for the English at the Aviva Stadium.
Although England still celebrated the title that day, the failure to clinch a Grand Slam proved something of an eye-opener for their head coach.
“It just showed me how hard it is to keep winning,” he said. “We thought we were a team that was going pretty well and we went to Lansdowne Road - we thought - well prepared and ready for the challenge ahead, but they were just too good for us on that day.
“That then exposes a number of things in your team, so your diligence in looking at your team and making sure you’ve got things right is never ending and never stops. Again, we got a lesson in the World Cup final about that. So it’s just one of those reminders that you never forget about how diligent you’ve got to be in ensuring your team is always at its best.”
Ireland continue to be without Furlong this week after the tighthead prop suffered a setback in his recovery from a calf injury, while captain Johnny Sexton was ruled out earlier in the week due to a hamstring staring, resulting in Ross Byrne taking on the No 10 jersey and lock James Ryan skippering the side from the start for the first time after getting a taste for the captaincy following Sexton’s withdrawal last week.
However, they have been bolstered by the fast start to Test rugby made by wing James Lowe, with the New Zealand-born Leinster back one of five non-Irish-born players named in Farrell’s starting line-up - something that has seen the national team referred to as the ‘Irish Barbarians’ this week.
“I heard someone calling them the United Nations, mate, so I had a little chuckle,” quipped Jones when asked about the make-up of this week’s opponents, before striking a more serious response.
“Andy Farrell, Mike Catt and Simon Easterby are just selecting the team they are allowed under the regulations. I can understand how Irish people would be upset about Irish-born players missing out. But they are the laws and regulations of international rugby; they are just sticking by the regulations.”
The Australian does, however, have previous experience of dealing with livewire Lowe, who capped his first appearance last weekend with a try in the closing stages of the win over Wales.
“I’ve got a vivid memory of James Lowe, playing for the New Zealand Maori against Japan in 2014 at Kobe Stadium,” he recalled.
“He scored a double chip-and-chase try against us, from his own goal-line, so I know what a talented player he is. He’s got great work off the ball, so we are just going to have to defend really well against him.”
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