Jonny May has revealed that the recent bite to training has forced the intervention of coaches, as England look to relaunch their NatWest 6 Nations title defence.
A 25-13 loss to Scotland produced only the second blemish of Eddie Jones’ 26 Tests in charge and on Saturday France provide the opportunity to make amends for surrendering the Calcutta Cup.
Leicester wing May insists the fallout from Murrayfield has been evident in the squad’s practice sessions.
“There has been a bit of an edge in camp — a positive one,” May said. “The boys have been training hard and smashing each other in training. You can just feel it.
“[Captain] Dylan Hartley leads it well. He always says: ‘Listen, we don’t want the coaches blowing their whistles, telling us to up it. We want the coaches blowing their whistles, telling us to rein it in.’ That’s how it has been this last couple of weeks.
“There have been no dust-ups, but it has been physical. It has needed to be.”
England’s only previous defeat under Jones came in last year’s Grand Slam game against Ireland, the anguish of that occasion heightened by the knowledge the same group of players would not meet again until the autumn, due to British and Irish Lions call-ups.
The Stade de France showdown offers the prospect of redemption by fixing the shortcomings in defence, leadership and at the breakdown that were exposed in Edinburgh.
“It’s the first time that we’ve had a loss and stayed together. Last time after the Ireland loss we all went away,” said May. “It’s a shame we didn’t have a game last weekend, because we all wanted to get back out on the pitch.
“Sometimes, it’s disappointing that you need to have a loss to have a reaction. That’s why we can be scratching our heads and thinking: ‘Why did this need to happen for us to feel this way?’
“I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel or go back to the drawing board, because we’re a great team. It’s not that we were complacent or anything, but sometimes you do get beaten and it does bring an edge and a desire to get back out there and put it right.
“It’s been pretty dark since. We’ve had to sit on the result for a couple of weeks. We were all really disappointed and hard on ourselves.
“Now, we want to go out there and show what it means. This is new territory for us. This is our opportunity to pull back together and learn as a group and push on.”
England name their team to France this morning, with Hartley’s fitness the main source of concern. The captain is struggling with a tight calf and is subject to a fitness test, with Jamie George on stand-by to start at hooker and Owen Farrell the probable replacement as captain.
Meanwhile, Wales head coach Warren Gatland has opened the door on a possible earlier-than-expected return to Wales for star wing George North.
The British and Irish Lion’s contract with Aviva Premiership club Northampton expires this summer. It was announced last November that he will then move back to Wales on a national dual contract and join a so-far unspecified regional team.
Saints have five Aviva Premiership games left, but whether or not North plays a part in any of those is debatable. North’s Wales selection to face Italy this weekend comes four days on from him missing the Premiership game against Sale Sharks, after which interim Saints boss Alan Gaffney suggested the 25-year-old had not wanted to play for Northampton.
Gatland said yesterday that North suffered a hip-flexor injury during the 37-27 defeat against Ireland 11 days ago, and was treated by Wales’ medical staff before returning to Northampton the Sunday before last.
“The message I have said to George is if he wants to come home quicker than next season, we will look after him,” said Gatland. “We are here for him. He knows if he isn’t comfortable in that environment, we will support him and the [Welsh Rugby] Union will support him 100% for whatever happens with him.”
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