BAGSHOT – England coach Eddie Jones did his best to unsettle leaders Wales ahead of the final round of Six Nations matches by suggesting Warren Gatland’s men were looking “tired”.
If Wales win at home to Ireland on Saturday’s final day of the Championship, they will complete a Grand Slam and be crowned champions.
But a Wales defeat allied to an England victory over Scotland in the Calcutta Cup clash at Twickenham later on Saturday in the last match of this season’s Six Nations would see England win the tournament instead.
Ireland too could end up retaining the title they won with a Grand Slam last season if results go their way.
“It’s a fascinating close to the tournament. You have three teams who can win it,” said Jones, with England’s hopes of a Grand Slam dashed by a 21-13 loss to Wales in Cardiff on February 23.
Much of Wales’ success this season has been based on a colossal defensive effort and Jones said: “Wales are a very good team. They are very well coached, great credit to them for what they have done – but they are starting to look a bit tired.
“They have made more tackles than anyone else in the tournament, and they are playing against an Ireland side that seems to be peaking at the right time,” he added.
England stunned reigning Grand Slam kings Ireland in the opening round with a 32-20 victory at Dublin’s Lansdowne Road, but Jones believes they have been improving since that early setback.
“You look at guys like Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton, Garry Ringrose and Peter O’Mahony who weren’t in great form at the start of the tournament but are now starting to come to the fore,” he said after unveiling his team to play Scotland.
“I’m sure the crowd will help Wales overcome that tiredness, but it’s going to be a great game,” the Australian insisted.
Saturday’s match could be former Australia and Japan coach Jones’ last Six Nations fixture in charge of England, with his future uncertain after this year’s World Cup in Japan.
“Well, that’s not for me to decide. Other people decide that. I don’t know,” Jones said.
“The only thing I know is that we have had a great week this week, and we are absolutely excited by the prospect of us finishing well.”
In order to do that on Saturday, they will likely have to reduce the threat pose by flyhalf Finn Russell, who last season guided Scotland to an impressive 25-13 win over arch-rivals England at Murrayfield.
“He’s a very good player,” said England captain and opposing No 10 Owen Farrell.
“He makes a lot of things tick for them, he is pivotal in the way that he plays and can make stuff happen. We will have to be on our toes against him.”
Scotland have only beaten perennial strugglers Italy in this Six Nations thus far, however, and they last won at Twickenham back in 1983.
It is all part of a dire away record that, excluding matches involved Italy, has yielded just two Scotland away wins since the advent of the Six as opposed to Five Nations in 2000 – against Wales in 2002 and Ireland in 2010.