Jones urges England to 'dominate' Six Nations

Julian Guyer
·4-min read

Reigning champions England have been urged to produce a "dominant" defence of their Six Nations title with coach Eddie Jones "grateful" the championship is going ahead amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Covid-19 delayed the finish of the 2020 edition and has cast a shadow over this season's tournament because of health fears regarding cross-border travel.

But England are still set to begin their scheduled title defence at home to arch-rivals Scotland on February 6.

"We are grateful for this opportunity. We are lucky enough, Owen (Farrell, the England captain) and myself, and the rest of the team, to actually make a living out of something we love doing," Jones told Wednesday's virtual tournament launch.

"You've just got to look at the news today, 100,000 people have died in the UK (from the coronavirus), one of the highest death rates in the world. It's a tough time.

"Elite sport has been given an opportunity to do something to help society get through this," added Jones, currently self-isolating after England forwards coach Matt Proudfoot's positive test.

Although England won last year's Six Nations, the 2019 losing World Cup finalists were beaten by France and then only saw off an under-strength French side in sudden death extra time in the final of the subsequent Autumn Nations Cup at Twickenham.

Their relatively conservative game-plan contrasted with the bold approach of a youthful French side.

"The great thing for us is that we know you guys (the media) love France so keep loving them, keep telling them how good they are," said a grinning Jones.

- 'Disappointed' -

But Jones, on a more serious note, added: "The one thing we were disappointed about in the autumn was that we never played as well as we could and that's what we are always striving to do, dominate the opposition.

"Some games it might be through the set piece, some through the breakdown, some ruck and run, some ruck and kick."

France coach Fabien Galthie brushed aside Jones' comments as "part of the discussions that happen before the tournament".

Charles Ollivon, the France captain, added: "I don't think we're favourites. It's all being played out by the media. We're gathered in Nice to prepare for the first game against Italy in Rome. That's our focus now."

Meanwhile, Ireland captain Johnny Sexton played down his latest injury ahead of the team's Six Nations opener away to Wales on February 7.

The fly-half, who suffered hamstring problems late last year, limped off during Leinster's PRO14 win over Munster on Saturday.

"It's not major and hopefully I will be back training by the end of the week and hopefully be fit for the Wales game," he said.

Wales skipper Alun Wyn Jones was similarly upbeat.

The lock, a veteran of a world record 152 Test appearances, has not played since early December after suffering a knee injury in Wales' Autumn Nations Cup finale against Italy.

"I have been up and running now for two or three weeks and I have progressed really well," Jones said. "I am back in training."

Ireland finished third in last season's Six Nations, behind England and France, with coach Andy Farrell, Owen's father, saying he wanted his side to be back up among the "pecking order" come the end of the tournament.

- 'Neutral ground' -

Scotland have a tough opening day assignment given they haven't beaten arch-rivals England at Twickenham since 1983.

But with matches set to take place behind closed doors on health grounds, home advantage may be reduced, even though Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said there was "no bigger (challenge) than England away".

Townsend, added, however: "We do understand that without 80,000 supporters there it doesn't feel as much of an away game, it feels more like 15 against 15 on a neutral ground. We just have to make sure we make the most of that opportunity."

Italy have spent most of their history as the 'sixth' nation finishing bottom of the table, including in each of the last five seasons.

Nevertheless, defiant coach Franco Smith said: "We want to win consistently, we want to be sustainable... This is a new start for Italian rugby."