England defence coach John Mitchell stoked the fires ahead of their trip to Dublin this Saturday by claiming that the defending Guinness Six Nations champions will “try and bore the shit out of us” at Aviva Stadium.
The former All Black, on the eve of his first Six Nations on Eddie Jones’s coaching staff described Ireland as the best side in the world but then described the successful components of the gameplan, including scrum-half Conor Murray’s box-kicking deployed by fellow Kiwi Joe Schmidt, in less than stellar terms ahead of the championship opening in Dublin this weekend.
“Our aim is to win the Six Nations but it is Ireland now and Ireland are arguably the best in the world,” Mitchell said yesterday in an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live at their warm-weather training camp on Portugal’s Algarve.
“Conor Murray is probably one of the best exponents of the box kick. And it’s a process they are very, very comfortable with. Ireland, for me, are a side that, through their process, being a well-coached side, are resilient. They will try and bore the shit out of us, basically.
“When you’re not focused they can hurt you in a contest like this.”
Mitchell’s comments follow on from a jibe by head coach Jones last week that Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton, the 2018 World Player of the Year, had the ear of referees via his “Bat Phone”, a statement laughed off by Schmidt at last Wednesday’s Six Nations launch in London.
These latest words are sure to get the same treatment, with the English due to fly into Dublin on Thursday afternoon, straight from their Portugal camp. England have lost on their previous two visits to the Aviva, 19-9 in 2015 and 13-9 two years later when Ireland denied Jones and his players back-to-back Grand Slams.
A year later, last St Patrick’s Day, and it was the Irish celebrating a Slam at Twickenham with a comprehensive 24-15 victory and yesterday Mitchell suggested England must approach this potential Six Nations title clash as a moment to seize.
A win over the defending champions and second-ranked side in the world would certainly get England’s Six Nations campaign up and running in fine style and former All Blacks head coach Mitchell added: “If you’re going to play the best team in the world, you might as well get into them straight away.
“They’ve deserved all the honours that came their way in 2018. Having them first up makes the challenge even more exciting. It’s a challenge that you don’t over-think, instead you walk towards it and embrace it.
“It’s always been tough playing there, but it’s even harder now because they’re a well-coached side. They’re very consistent and have a process they’re very confident in.”
Back rower Brad Shields and powerhouse wing Joe Cokanasiga are England’s major fitness concerns ahead of Thursday’ team announcement, with side and knee injuries respectively.
Captain and fly-half Owen Farrell is on course to lead the team having made good progress in the last week following thumb surgery. Shields and Cokanasiga have until tomorrow to prove they have fully recovered and are ready to go.
“Our main session is on Wednesday. We’ll be in a better position by then to know exactly where we’ll be at with individuals,” Mitchell said. “Brad is progressing really nicely.
“Owen has been integrating further and further as the sessions have gone on. He’s very vocal and very energetic. It looks like he’s enjoyed little bit of a break. He’s been jumping into contact progressively and seems pretty good and isn’t shirking any of his duties.”
Mitchell added that flanker Jack Clifford, who was not expected to be part of the matchday 23, has returned home to England after sustaining a head injury in training.