Six Nations

Jones aims barbs at Ireland

Eddie Jones (Getty)
Eddie Jones (Getty)

London - Eddie Jones has never been shy of voicing an opinion and the Australian was at it again ahead of his home debut as England coach, against Ireland in the Six Nations at Twickenham on Saturday.

For starters, the former Australia and Japan coach called defending Six Nations champions Ireland "risk-averse", saying they kick some 60 percent of their ball away.

"It has worked for them," Jones said. "It is not the way I think you should play rugby but it has been successful for them. They minimise their risk. They are a risk-averse team because they kick the ball so much."

As if that was not provocative enough, Jones made it clear on Thursday he would have no problems with England going after Ireland flyhalf Jonathan Sexton.

On one level this was a statement of the obvious - teams routinely look to close down a key opposition playmaker such as Sexton.

However, the fact Jones suggested Sexton's parents should be concerned for the health of the stand-off, who has a long history of concussion problems, may not have gone down well with Ireland, who were adamant the goal kicker had suffered whiplash rather than a head injury in this month's bruising 10-9 defeat by France.

"We target players all the time. That's part of rugby, is it not?" Jones said. "There are 15 players out there. Are we supposed to not run at one player?

"I'm not saying Sexton is a weak defender. Maybe France did. We're going to be targeting players in the Ireland side.

"We want to win and you win a game of rugby by attacking their weak points and to say that's unfair is just ridiculous."

England have won both their opening two matches under Jones, defeating two of the Six Nations weaker teams in Scotland (15-9) and Italy (40-9).

Saturday's match sees England back at Twickenham for the first time since a crushing 33-13 defeat by Australia in October saw them become the first host nation to bow out of a World Cup at the group stage.

For all the talk of change under Jones, 10 players who were involved in that loss to the Wallabies are in the starting side to face an injury-hit Ireland, bidding to win a third straight Six Nations title.

England, now captained by hooker Dylan Jones but with former skipper Chris Robshaw still in the back row, were imprecise with much of their driving forward play against Italy in Rome last time out.

Both of Jones's two changes to his starting side are in the pack, with 21-year-old Saracens lock Maro Itoje set for his first start after impressing off the bench against Italy, and loose head prop Joe Marler anchoring the scrum.

Figures indicate that Jones's England team have kicked even more ball away than Ireland, but the key issue is how well the tactic is used.

England's 'dual' flyhalf strategy of playing both George Ford and Owen Farrell gives them kicking options but Ireland powerhouse centre Stuart McCloskey will be keen to mark his international debut by testing the pair's midfield defence.

"To say Stuart will handle his debut is probably an understatement; he always steps up to whatever is in front of him," said Ireland wing Andrew Trimble, an Ulster team-mate of McCloskey.

Leinster flank Josh van der Flier will also make his Ireland debut, in place of the injured Sean O'Brien.

Ireland have yet to win this season after starting their title defence with a 16-16 draw against Wales.

Joe Schmidt, the Ireland coach, who has come under fire from some Irish fans for too heavy a reliance on an aerial, power-orientated game, has made five changes in all to the team edged out by France.

But they will still have enough on-field experience to give England their sternest test yet as the home side continue their quest for a first Grand Slam since their World Cup-winning year of 2003.

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