Six Nations: England finding their bite after Scotland loss says Jonny May

Alex Broun 8/03/2018
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Jonny May has revealed that the recent bite to training has forced the intervention of coaches as England look to relaunch their Six 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 experience of defeat under Jones came in last year’s Grand Slam game against Ireland, the anguish of that occasion heightened by the knowledge that 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 immediate 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,” May said.

“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 are 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.”

Dylan Hartley may not be fit to face France

Dylan Hartley may not be fit to face France

England name their team to face France on Thursday morning, with Hartley’s fitness the main source of concern.

The captain is struggling with a tight calf which has been monitored daily 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.

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Six Nations: Maro Itoje's dip in form down to "second-season syndrome", says England coach Eddie Jones

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Eddie Jones insists “second-season syndrome” explains Maro Itoje’s slide in form since last summer’s British and Irish Lions tour.

In between making his debut against Italy two years ago and helping the Lions record a drawn Test series against New Zealand, the England lock’s international career was an unqualified success that included a World Rugby player of the year nomination.

He was used sparingly during the autumn and – having subsequently recovered from a fractured jaw – he has struggled to make an impact after three rounds of the 2018 Six Nations title defence.

While Jones has pointed out that the nation which supplies most players to a Lions tour traditionally labours through the next season, he believes there is a different source for Itoje hitting a plateau.

“Maro is second-season syndrome. First season, no one knows what’s your best shot, no one knows where you score runs,” Jones said.

Eddie Jones of England

“Second season, everyone knows and they take that away from you. And you’ve got to find a different way to score runs. That’s what he’s finding at the moment.

“It’s a great exercise for him, because by the time he gets to the World Cup he’ll be in his third year.

“He is going to be a great player for us. What he’s going through at the moment is very natural.”

Jones believes opponents have found a way to nullify Itoje’s presence at the heart of the forward battle, but is backing the 23-year-old to emerge stronger from an experience that he believes is drawing the best from him.

“Maro is an energetic player who gets a lot of his energy from around the ruck, but he is just not being given that opportunity,” Jones said.

“He is a very diligent and serious player. I have been really impressed by him. He has done remarkably well.

“In fact, I am more impressed by him this season than I was last season because he is working hard to improve his game, he understands he has to improve his game.

“He has to work it out himself but the coaches assist him in steering him in one direction to prioritise his time and effort.

Maro Itoje 1

“A lot of players get stuck in second-season syndrome. It’s difficult, particularly when you come out of the blocks in the first season because you not only carry the expectation, you carry more attention from other players.”

England head to Paris for Saturday’s match against France with their title defence delicately poised following a 25-13 defeat to Scotland that has placed Ireland at the forefront of the chase for supremacy in Europe.

“History shows that the team that has the most Lions struggles in the Six Nations,” Jones said.

“There’s a lot of reasons to understand why. We had 16 players on the Lions tour. I always knew this was going to be a tough year, but we haven’t used that as an excuse and we don’t intend to.

“We’ve had to manage players differently, we’ve had to train players differently. We’re getting to the end of it now. I’m starting to see some light about where the players can be.

“But certainly, you’ve got that many players playing a post-season tour – that is three or four times longer than a normal tour – and it’s going to have an effect.”

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Six Nations: Blair Kinghorn given first Scotland start for Ireland clash

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Blair Kinghorn will make his first start for Scotland against Ireland on Saturday after being named in Gregor Townsend’s side for their pivotal Six Nations clash in Dublin.

The on-form Edinburgh wing’s inclusion is the only alteration to the side which beat England last time out as he replaces the injured Tommy Seymour.

Kinghorn – who has scored eight tries for his club side this term – made his debut off the bench in that triumphant Calcutta Cup win a fortnight ago.

Now he will hope to play a part in a victory over Joe Schmidt’s side that will see the Dark Blues claw themselves back into Championship contention.

Glasgow wing Lee Jones comes onto the bench following the withdrawal of Scotstoun colleague Seymour with a back injury, while the Warriors’ Fraser Brown – who featured in all but two Scotland Tests last year – returns from injury to take Scott Lawson’s place as replacement hooker.

There is no place for Richie Gray, despite the giant Toulouse lock rejoining the squad after shaking off a troublesome calf injury as Grant Gilchrist gets the nod to start alongside his brother Jonny Gray.

Flanker John Hardie also misses out despite being handed a recall to Townsend’s squad this week for the first time since being suspended by his club side Edinburgh following allegations of cocaine use.

Scotland lost their opening clash to Wales but back-to-back wins over France and England have now raised hopes that they can make a bid for their first title since their 1999 Five Nations success.

Townsend said: “We were delighted with the result against England and backing up our win against France with an improved performance.

“The intent we showed in attack and defence in the first half was very encouraging and we continued to work hard in the second half. The effort that went into denying England a second try in the closing minutes was great to see.

“Our players had prepared very well for the challenge of taking on England and there has been a similar focus and commitment this week at training.

“There are a few areas of our game that we are working to improve and we are aware that we will have to be better if we are to beat a very good Ireland side in Dublin.”

Scotland team to play Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday:

S Hogg (Glasgow); B Kinghorn (Edinburgh), H Jones, P Horne (both Glasgow), S Maitland (Saracens); F Russell (Glasgow), G Laidlaw (Clermont); G Reid (London Irish), S McInally, S Berghan; G Gilchrist (all Edinburgh), J Gray (Glasgow); J Barclay (Scarlets), H Watson (Edinburgh), R Wilson (Glasgow).
Replacements: F Brown (Glasgow), J Bhatti (Glasgow), WP Nel (Edinburgh), T Swinson (Glasgow), D Denton (Worcester), A Price, N Grigg, L Jones (all Glasgow). 

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