Eddie Jones insists Ireland must shoulder the burden of being the best team in the world when England visit Dublin on Saturday and warned: “Praise can make you weak”.
The Guinness Six Nations rivals clash in an early title showdown that Joe Schmidt’s Grand Slam holders enter as favourites on the strength of a standout 2018 that included a home win over world champions New Zealand in November.
England have gambled by retaining Elliot Daly at full-back, overlooking the aerial expertise of Mike Brown despite the kicking threat posed by Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray.
Also present are Manu Tuilagi at inside centre and Jack Nowell on the left wing, the latter described by Jones as a “street-fighter” ideally suited to the ferocious welcome expected at the Aviva Stadium.
England’s head coach knows Ireland are viewed as emphatic favourites to make a triumphant start to the defence of their crown but refuses to cast his side as underdogs.
“It’s well documented that no one thinks we can win but I can tell you everyone inside our camp believes we can win,” said Jones,
“It’s fun. You want to play the best in the world away from home and Ireland are the best in the world at the moment.
“Everyone is writing them up and they have got to carry that expectation round, so we’re excited about the prospect of playing there. Praise can make you weak.
“The boys are fit, they’re together. They’re serious, but they’ve got a smile on their face. They’re good to go and they want to make England proud.
“I never use the status of being underdogs, it’s never been one of the tricks of the trade because we never think we’re not better than the opposition.
“I’d hate to go into a game thinking we weren’t better than the opposition, that we need surprises or tricks to win the game.
“We don’t need that. We want Ireland to be at their absolute best, we want to be at our best and then for the best team to win.”
How England deal with the onslaught of high balls awaiting in Dublin depends on their faith in Daly, who was exposed at times during the autumn series.
“Elliot’s been our first choice since the South Africa tour and we’re confident he can do a great job. He gives us a great attacking game,” Jones said.
“Dropping a couple of balls is not an indication to me that he hasn’t done well because there are so many other factors involved.
“We’re much better at tracking back now to protect our catchers, which is a massive part of the game now.
“Elliot is a great catcher of the ball. He’s been doing a lot of work with (England high performance manager) Neil Craig, who’s from an Aussie Rules background.
“We’ve got every bit of confidence in him – and we’ve got confidence in our team supporting him well.”
Jones has resisted the urge to pick Nowell at openside flanker after stating previously that the Exeter wing would also prosper in the back row, but he has been given the freedom to put his jackling skills to good use.
Tuilagi has been selected at inside centre – where he has played little rugby – to make his first Six Nations start for six injury-blighted years after profiting from Ben Te’o’s side strain.
“Ben and Manu are similar players in that they’re gainline players. They’re big guys and we expected a lot of traffic down that channel,” Jones said.
“We need that type of player to play 12 for us this week. We prefer him to play 13, but that’ not the situation this week so he needs to play 12. Certainly we’ll use Manu to full advantage on first phase.”