Eddie Jones last night backed his England team to beat Ireland in the aerial battle which so often decides their Six Nations duels.
He also warned Andy Farrell’s unchanged line-up that Jonny May, match winner with a try and an assist in Dublin a year ago, goes into Sunday’s Triple Crown eliminator an even better player.
Jones had made a point of deliberately saying as little as possible, presumably in response to being widely criticised for giving France the ammunition to shoot down England on the opening weekend.
But when questioning turned to why the Irish tend to be so good at the ‘high ball’ contest, the Red Rose boss found his voice.
He acknowledged that Irish players develop skills from an early age as “probably from the age of five they play Gaelic football”.
But he insisted: “We’re not afraid of the contest. That’s an area we pride ourselves on being pretty good in. We back our back-three in that area against any team.”
England’s kick-chase game has been poor in this championship, symbolised perhaps by 'high ball' coach Neil Craig trying to catch one in France and dislocating his finger.
In Paris scrum-half Ben Youngs lacked control with his box kicks whilst in Scotland, there was no control to be had for either team due to Storm Ciara.
But Ireland know as well as Jones that when Youngs and Ford find their line and length, May is a match for anyone in world rugby.
The Leicester wing needs one try to reach 30 for England just weeks before before he celebrates his 30th birthday.
He already has two of England’s three in this tournament – and 15 in 20 Tests since Ireland won the Grand Slam on their last Six Nations visit two years ago.
“This a guy who has a continual desire to be better,” said Jones. “He’s one of the most dedicated rugby players I’ve coached. He’s so focused on getting better. His whole week is about how he can improve.
“He’s not only improved his speed, he’s improved his ability to catch in the air. And he continue to get better. The most exciting thing is that we haven’t seen the best of him yet.”
The Men in Green will hope that is wishful thinking, given they have lost three of the four matches May has played against them and allowed him three tries.
England have retained a 27-man squad which includes Manu Tuilagi, whom Jones expects to play after injury, and fellow midfielder Henry Slade, who has only an outside chance.
South African ref Jaco Peyper takes charge – his first Test since his World Cup ended abruptly after he sent off a Frenchman for foul play in the quarter-final against Wales.
Later that same evening Peyper posed for a photo with fans appearing to mock the incident and was stood down by World Rugby for ‘inappropriate’ behaviour.
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