England coach Eddie Jones has launched an extraordinary attack on critics in the media, who he claimed were infecting his players with “rat poison”.
England, who face Ireland in Dublin on Sunday (Monday NZT) in their final Six Nations match, came in for heavy criticism after their opening-round defeat by Scotland and the 40-24 reverse against Wales which ended their title defence.
But Jones’ team have since bounced back, beating France 23-20 in a display lauded as their best since the 2019 World Cup.
Jones makes just one change from that starting XV, with Elliot Daly replacing the injured Henry Slade at outside centre. That represents Daly’s first international start in what Jones calls his “preferred position” in more than four years.
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Daly was among a number of Saracens players who started the championship slowly after coming into it with no game-time and was replaced at full-back by Max Malins against France.
Asked how Daly’s confidence has been affected over the past few weeks, Jones lashed out.
“I’ve never seen confidence walk through the door, so I don’t know what confidence is,” Jones said.
“I don’t think there is any such thing as confidence, you either think rightly or you think wrongly, and the wrong time you start to listen to the poison that’s written in the media, that rat poison gets into players’ heads.
“We try to keep it out of their head. We try to spray all that rat poison that you try to put in and get it out of their head, so we are always working hard to keep it out of their heads. It keeps me busy, mate.”
Many of the faults highlighted by the media, such as England’s attacking game and discipline, have subsequently been mentioned by the players themselves.
As wing Jonny May said this week of the Scotland defeat, “it shined a light on the fact that our attack wasn’t good enough”.
Jones, meanwhile, invited two referees to training after his side conceded 14 penalties against Wales.
Earlier in the press conference, Jones admitted Daly was off-colour earlier in the tournament, along with other leading lights.
“His form wasn’t very good at the start of the tournament, was it?” Jones said. “We had a number of players like that, he wasn’t the only one. All those players have had to dig deep and find themselves, as the team has.”
On the bench, Jones has brought in Harlequins centre Joe Marchant, who was only called up as cover for Slade at the start of the week, ahead of Wasps’ Paolo Odogwu. That means the uncapped Odogwu will have spent the entire championship in England’s training camp without playing a minute of Test rugby.
“Some players need a period of adaptation and he is a much better player now,” Jones said.
“If he keeps working hard on his game and keeps attending to areas of his game that he needs to do to be a Test player he is going to be a great prospect.”
AT A GLANCE
Ireland v England, Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Ireland: Hugo Keenan, Keith Earls, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale, Jonathan Sexton (captain), Conor Murray; Jack Conan, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander, Tadhg Beirne, Iain Henderson, Tadhg Furlong, Rob Herring, Dave Kilcoyne. Reserves: Ronan Kelleher, Cian Healy, Andrew Porter, Ryan Baird, Peter O’Mahony, Jamison Gibson-Park, Billy Burns, Jordan Larmour.
England: Max Malins, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell (captain), Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Billy Vunipola, Tom Curry, Mark Wilson, Charlie Ewels, Maro Itoje, Kyle Sinckler, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola. Reserves: Jamie George, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Jonny Hill, Ben Earl, Dan Robson, Ollie Lawrence, Joe Marchant.