England coach Eddie Jones and captain Owen Farrell pose with the Six Nations trophy at the tournament launch in London on Wednesday. Photo: Matthew Childs/Action Images via Reuters

LONDON – England coach Eddie Jones joked on Wednesday that he would be buying a pair of binoculars to have a look at Ireland’s training sessions ahead of an eagerly anticipated Six Nations Championship opener in Dublin on February 2.

Jones recently entered into the row sparked by an admission from Marcelo Bielsa, the manager of English football’s second-tier leaders Leeds United, that he has had their divisional rivals watched in secret by a member of his backroom team this season.

Jones, a former coach of both his native Australia and Japan, said that while such ‘spying’ had been commonplace in rugby, it had now been made obsolete in rugby by modern technology.

Both England and Ireland will be heading to Portugal for warm-weather training camps ahead of the Six Nations and Jones, speaking at the tournament launch in London on Wednesday, jokingly said: “We’re both in Portugal, so I’m going to the airport now and buying a pair of binoculars.”

England’s fixture against Ireland, the reigning Grand Slam champions, has been billed as the match of the tournament.  

“The only thing we can do is prepare well, be 100 percent committed, and we will take it from there,” said Jones.

“Whether it is the biggest game of the tournament or not, it doesn’t really matter.”

England started last year’s Championship as the defending champions, but finished a lowly fifth following defeats by Scotland, France and Ireland.

But Jones, in a year that will culminate with the World Cup in Japan, had no truck with suggestions that England would benefit from lower expectations when travelling to Dublin’s Lansdowne Road.

“Our expectation is always the same, to go to Ireland and win. The only acceptable thing is to beat them, and that is our number one priority.

“The World Cup is nine months away. We are only focused on beating Ireland. Whether it’s the biggest game of the tournament doesn’t really matter.”

Both in the Six Nations, and in international rugby union generally, winning away from home has long been a tough task.

“That’s Test rugby, isn’t it,” said Jones. “There are societal reasons – the home team is more comfortable, the referee is sometimes seduced by the environment.

“But when you are a good team, you win home and away. We acknowledge Ireland will be tough to beat at home we are preparing to win there.”

He added: “There are two contests against Ireland, one in the air and one on the ground and you have to win both of those to win the game.”

Meanwhile, England captain Owen Farrell was confident he would be fit to face an Ireland side where his father, the former England centre Andy Farrell, is the assistant coach.

The Saracens flyhalf, alongside Jones at the launch, recently underwent surgery on a “minor” thumb injury.

“I should be training towards the end of this week, and I am confident I will be able to play against Ireland,” he said.

Jones added: “I’m confident Owen is going to play. We have got George Ford, so we are well-stocked at number 10.”

Many pundits thought Farrell fortunate to stay on the field following illegal ‘no-arms’ tackles during England’s wins at home to South Africa and Australia in November. 

But Farrell, renowned for his physical commitment in defence, said: “My job is to tackle within the laws, never tried to do otherwise, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on.”

AFP