Eddie Jones predicts England’s Guinness Six Nations title showdown with Ireland will be a classic as a host of players are vying to prove they are Europe’s top dogs.
The rivals meet at Twickenham on Sunday with Jones’ World Cup finalists desperate to claim the win that will keep them in title contention and Andy Farrell’s men equally determined to continue their Grand Slam march.
The contest is littered with collisions between Lions team-mates driven to demonstrate they are the continent’s finest in their position, not least between captains and playmakers Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton.
🏟️Twickenham Stadium, London
📅Sunday 23 February
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) February 21, 2020
“Ireland have a number of players who espouse to be number one in Europe,” Jones said.
“And we have a number of guys in our team who espouse to be number one in Europe. I think that means it will be a titanic clash.”
Two personnel who will be hoping to lay down an early marker for the 2021 Lions tour are locks Maro Itoje and James Ryan, who could be packing down together in South Africa in 18 months’ time.
“They are both massive work rate players. Ryan has an incredible work rate, as does Maro. And they are both destructive,” Jones said.
A post shared by Maro Itoje (@maroitoje) on Feb 16, 2020 at 5:34am PST
“That head to head clash is pretty interesting because they set the intensity for their teams to a large degree. Maro definitely does for us.”
Along with several of his team-mates, Itoje has yet to hit full throttle in the 2020 Six Nations but Jones insists he is about to rediscover the type of form that made him a force at the World Cup.
“Maro’s getting back to his best. He will definitely be at his best on Sunday. We have seen each week that he has progressed,” Jones said.
“The World Cup took a lot out of our boys – mentally and physically – and then having come back and played consistently for their clubs, it’s been difficult for them.
“That’s part of the deal and you have to get through it, but now I think we will see the best of some of our players.”
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) February 21, 2020
Courtney Lawes was nursing an ugly black eye as he promised Ireland a ferocious battle up-front.
Lawes’ right eye was almost shut due to extensive bruising sustained during a collision in training on Thursday but the Northampton lock-cum-flanker insists he will be ready for a pivotal clash at Twickenham.
“It’s just a boo boo! Nothing too crazy. It’s all fine… just a clash, my head on something, not sure what,” Lawes said at the eve-of-match captain’s run press conference.
“I’m hoping it will go down a bit by tomorrow. It’s all right – I got through today so I was all right.”
Courtney Lawes displaying a major shiner after taking a bang to his right eye in training pic.twitter.com/JjavyRMsBw
— Duncan Bech (@DuncanBech) February 22, 2020
Ireland are chasing the Grand Slam after accumulating wins against Scotland and Wales but England amassed 89 points in two emphatic victories over their old rivals last year.
“We’re expecting a pretty physical battle. Up front they have got a really good pack, a big pack, so that is a big area for us to front up and show we want it,” Lawes said.
“We want to get out there and get at them. I’m really looking forward to it.
“Playing at Twickenham can be a big advantage, but it can also turn against you if you don’t get it quite right.
“It is what you make of it.”