Eddie Jones still smarting at 'no-ruck' Italy

Julian GUYER
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England coach Eddie Jones watches a training session at Pennyhill Park in Bagshot, on March 7, 2017

England may be on the brink of equalling a world record and within sight of retaining their Six Nations title but coach Eddie Jones was in an oddly chippy mood on Thursday.

Victory over Scotland in Saturday's Calcutta Cup clash at Twickenham will see England draw level with world champions New Zealand's record of 18 successive Test wins by a 'tier one' or leading rugby union nation.

Jones has overseen 16 of those 17 consecutive victories and has won all his matches as England coach since taking charge following the team's first-round exit on home soil at the 2015 World Cup.

Yet the fall out from their most recent success, a 36-15 win at home to Italy a fortnight ago, clearly still irked the Australian.

Jones was angered by Italy's 'no ruck' ploy which left his team utterly bemused in a first half that finished with the visitors' enjoying a shock 10-5 lead.

England eventually got their act together in a second half where they scored five tries.

But, immediately after the match, that didn't stop Jones comparing Italy's tactics to underarm bowling in cricket and saying referee Romain Poite had looked "flustered".

But when it was gently suggested to Jones, in a news conference broadcast live on Thursday, that ideally his players would react more quickly if confronted again with more unusual tactics, he bristled at the suggestion they had been out-smarted by Italy.

"There was someone confused in the first half and it wasn't our players," said Jones, in another apparent reference to Poite.

"A hundred percent I thought that we dealt with it fantastically well," added Jones, who also cancelled his usual separate pre-match briefing for national newspapers.

- 'Spirit of the game' -

Jones, speaking at England's Bagshot training base, southwest of London, responded to a question about possible Scottish innovation by implicitly renewing his post-match criticism of Italy coach Conor O'Shea.

"Scotland's a well-coached side and Vern Cotter is a good rugby coach so they will participate in the spirit of the game," he said.

Earlier this week several newspapers suggested powerhouse back-row Billy Vunipola might go straight back into the starting XV following a knee injury after his name appeared in what looked to be a team line-up on a whiteboard by the side of a practice pitch.

Vunipola, however, was among the replacements come Thursday's team announcement by Jones, with Nathan Hughes retaining the No 8 shirt.

"The Daily Telegraph picked him for us and we decided we’d change our minds!," joked Jones.

But while Jones could be forgiven for having fun over Vunipola's position, his comments regarding an injury to first-choice goal-kicker Owen Farrell were bizarre.

Farrell, named at inside centre, was withdrawn from England's final training session on Thursday after receiving treatment for a leg injury.

Jones 'jokingly' tried to explain thde injury by saying Farrell had run into his dog.

Things became even more curious when, within moments of saying Farrell was "doubtful" to face Scotland, Jones added he would be "alright" for the game.

"Owen could be a doubt. He's got a bad leg, so he couldn't finish training. He'll be alright," Jones said.

"My dog was running around and he ran into it."

When it was pointed out to Jones he had just given conflicting answers, he snapped back: "Yeah, but I think he'll be alright. Is that OK?"

Jones, asked about possible alternatives, insisted: "We've got plenty of back-ups.

"Ben Te'o can play 12, he's an exceptional player. There's no risk for us.

"We've got some great goal kickers - George Ford."

England have yet to find themselves ahead at half-time this Six Nations but an unconcerned Jones said: "We've been ahead at the 80th minute mark and that’s the only time that counts.

"It’s like starting a 100 metre race - you can be ahead at the 10-metre mark but you’ve got to be in front at the 100-metre mark."