- England face Italy in their second Six Nations match in Rome on Saturday
- They need a victory to keep their hopes alive after defeat to Scotland last week
- Jones insisted England have responded well to the agonising defeat
- He wants England to be ‘Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston’ in Rome
Eddie Jones invoked the spirit of Muhammad Ali when he urged his revamped England side to deliver a dominant, knock-out Six Nations performance against Italy in Rome.
The national team are seeking to bounce back off the ropes after the defeat against Scotland last weekend which dealt a savage blow to their championship title hopes. On Saturday, they will face the Azzurri, who haven’t recorded a win in the annual showpiece tournament since 2015 – and Jones expects England to show no mercy.
‘We want to be ruthless,’ said the head coach, after promoting Harry Randall and Alex Dombrandt to the Red Rose starting XV, among several eye-catching selection changes. ‘We want to light up Rome.
‘We’ve got a chance to atone for what we did last Saturday. We can only do that by being really ruthless and having that vision of Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston. That sort of image in your head where you want to really go at them.
‘We’re probably missing seven front-line players, very conservatively. When you look at the quality of our bench, it’s testament to the strength of the squad. We’ve got what would be deemed a very young and inexperienced team starting, and a more worldly, experienced finishing eight.
‘The finishing eight will have the opportunity to be Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston.’
The agonising 20-17 defeat at Murrayfield in last weekend’s Six Nations opener was a dire setback for England after they had been in a position of command with a 17-10 lead going into the last quarter. But Jones claimed that his squad have reacted well in adversity, saying: ‘The response has been good.
‘They were extremely disappointed after the game. We bounced back, trained on Tuesday night – doing an old-school session under lights – and they did really well. They had a good session on Wednesday and trained really well today.
‘The thing about these situations is there’s a lot of outside noise, a lot of opinions, a lot of judgement on players, and it’s important for the team to understand what is important and what we need to do rather than getting seduced by other comments. Staying committed to the team is the most important thing. I’ve seen a lot of that this week.’
Italy’s campaign begun in familiar fashion, with a heavy defeat – 37-10 against France in Paris last Sunday – but they showed improved resilience and England won’t be taking them lightly.
‘They are a well-coached team,’ said Jones. ‘They’ve made some really rapid progress under Kieran Crowley. He has coached successfully at Canada, did a great job with Benetton and knows Italian rugby culture.
‘They are getting guys like Garbisi coming through, and being good enough to keep a World Cup-winner like Handre Pollard on the bench at Montpellier.. Lamaro is a very tough competitor who would make most international teams and Negri has that Zimbabwean beef with the Italian accent.
‘They’re not a team you can under-estimate. I’m sure Kieran will have them well prepared. These matches are called Tests because the opposition tests you. It is not a festival game. It’s going be a tough.’