England coach Eddie Jones admits it “hurt” when what had seemed like a Midas touch in the role unravelled spectacularly during last year’s Six Nations.
After securing back-to-back championships since taking over the Twickenham hot seat, the Aussie then led England to a world-record equalling unbeaten run before losing to Ireland in Dublin two years ago, but last year’s tournament saw the wheels come off.
Wins against Italy and Wales were brought to shuddering halt by a remarkable onslaught from Scotland in the Calcutta Cup match at BT Murrayfield last February.
That 25-13 defeat – a first to the Scots in a decade – spiralled into losses by Ireland and France as England were humbled into fifth place in the table.
“It hurts,” said the coach. “When you lose, it’s painful. That was three years into a four-year project. “Sometimes in the third year of a journey you experiment with things, around how you train and see where you can go, and they didn’t have the beneficial effects we had hoped for. We have to learn from that.”
For the first time in Six Nations history, England face Ireland in the opening round and Jones is braced for a fearsome test in Dublin against the side who have moved up to second in the world rankings as his team have dropped to fourth.
The England coach is expecting a fiercely competitive Six Nations, three years on from his first match in the tournament, which was a victory in Edinburgh.
“Five teams could win it, and Italy could spring some shocks along the way,” he said at yesterday’s tournament launch in London.
“You probably couldn’t have said that when I came three years ago. That’s fantastic for European rugby, fantastic for the tournament.”
Jones received some good news ahead of the tournament yesterday as his captain, Owen Farrell, expressed confidence that he will be fit to face Ireland.
Farrell underwent surgery to repair a damaged tendon in his thumb on Saturday, casting doubt over his involvement against Joe Schmidt’s champions. Saracens have stated he will need seven to 10 days to recover, but Farrell expects to be fully involved in the squad’s pre-tournament camp in Portugal that begins in earnest on Friday.
“The hand is good. I had something small done to it on the weekend,” Farrell said at the Six Nations launch. “I should be training towards the end of this week. It was a gradual thing and is something small.”
When asked if he expected to play against Ireland, Farrell replied: “I’m confident, yes.”
As skipper, playmaker-in-chief, goalkicker and talisman, Farrell’s fitness is key to English hopes of causing an upset in a title-shaping showdown.
Hooker Dylan Hartley, Farrell’s co-captain, and flanker Chris Robshaw have been sidelined by knee injuries, leaving Jones without two trusted on-field lieutenants.
If Farrell fails to recover in time, George Ford will start at stand-off and would also be the main contender to lead the team with Maro Itoje an alternative for the role.
Despite the injury scare, Jones has opted against calling up any cover at 10 for the nine-day camp in the Algarve.
“I’m confident Owen is going to play and we’ve got George there as well so we’re well stocked for 10s,” Jones said.