Bat phones, spying and Eddie mind games: it must be Six Nations time again

International
AFP
by AFP

England coach Eddie Jones joked Wednesday 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 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 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, 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."

The often outspoken Jones suggested last week that Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton, the reigning World Player of the Year, had a "bat phone" to the referee.

But Ireland coach Joe Schmidt brushed aside a typical Jones comment on Wednesday.

"Eddie walked past me earlier and said 'let's get ready for a few grenades'," said Schmidt. "He told me he was going to keep them coming!

"He's incredibly hard to read, because you don't know if he means what he's saying or if he's joking," explained the New Zealander, who will stand down as Ireland coach after this year's World Cup in Japan.

"I think it keeps it fresh, it keeps it entertaining. It does make me think 'is he serious about that?'," he added. 

 "I enjoy the banter with Eddie. He's a smart coach."

As for Jones' latest comment about Sexton, who is expected to be fit for the Six Nations opener despite a knee injury, Schmidt said: "Yeah, look I want to get hold of it if I can. I'd like a direct dial myself.

"I don't know that Commissioner Gordon is in the building when matches are being played.

"Johnny doesn't have as much to say for us because he's not skipper. Rory (Best) would be the guy who is more face-to-face conversations than bat phones - but I think he manages that well as captain."

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

But Jones had no truck with suggestions 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," he said.

England, like Ireland, have fitness concerns over their fly-half in captain Owen Farrell.

The Saracens No 10, whose father Andy is Ireland's assistant coach, recently underwent surgery on a thumb injury that was described as minor.

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

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."