Eddie Jones has warned his players of the “massive step-up” they face against Ireland on Saturday, suggesting England are at a disadvantage because of the lack of high-quality opposition they have faced this autumn.
England enjoyed a comprehensive if unremarkable 40-0 win over Georgia on Saturday to move top of their Autumn Nations Cup pool, two weeks after a rusty 34-5 win over Italy sealed the Six Nations crown. In dreadful conditions, England’s scrum laid the foundations against Georgia, with Jones pleased at how his side prevailed in an area of traditional strength for their opponents.
However, Jones considers Ireland, who lost to France in Paris last month before overcoming Wales 32-9 on Friday, another proposition altogether. Ireland have concerns over Johnny Sexton, who limped off against Wales with a hamstring injury, but Jones believes Andy Farrell is now making his mark on the team with the introduction of the New Zealand-born pair, James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park, to the squad.
Addressing England’s opponents so far, Jones may have been, strictly speaking, wrong to describe Italy as a tier two nation, but the world rankings appear to back up his point with Georgia in 12th place and the Azzurri in 14th. He said: “[Ireland is] a massive step-up. You’ve just got to look at the world rankings. It’s like going from playing [Kei] Nishikori to [Novak] Djokovic. Our difficulty is that we’ve played two tier two countries and we’re going to play against a team who have had a great preparation against Wales and France.
“[Ireland] are a tough, physical team, they’ve been at the top of world rugby for the last four or five years, in the top four or five teams. Obviously they’ve had some great European success and had a change of coach after the World Cup and Andy has made their attack a little bit unpredictable. They present a massive physical challenge and a good tactical challenge.”
Jones is cautiously optimistic Jonathan Joseph will be fit to face Ireland, after he was replaced shortly before half-time against Georgia due to a back injury. George Ford may also come back into contention after an achilles problem.
Elliot Daly believes England are capable of a more polished attacking performance than they have shown so far this autumn. “I think we have that in the locker,” he said. “When needed, it’s going to come out. The last few games, it’s all about winning Test matches.
“Playing against Ireland, they are very organised with what they do. They are a very physical, forward-orientated team as well, with some quality backs. They bring a good kicking game, so we will be looking at that this week.”