March 13, 2018
Exeter player hoping to add to solitary England cap in Six Nations
Eddie Jones looks for ways to improve breakdown performance
Belatedly summoned by Eddie Jones after consecutive defeats and further injuries in the back row, Don Armand has a straightforward answer to what has been identified as England’s number one problem. “If you can’t hit a breakdown, the fundamentals of rugby are things that you’ll struggle with,” he said. “Being in rugby it has to be one of your strengths.”
Armand is in contention to start at No 8 against Ireland on Saturday and while the 29-year-old has started only twice there for Exeter this season, he is in direct competition with his club-mate Sam Simmonds to slot in for the injured Nathan Hughes.
Armand has only one cap, from the tour of Argentina last summer, with Jones ignoring repeated calls to select him again until now and previously questioning his work rate.
The England coach was also quick to point out that injuries – Billy Vunipola, Sam Underhill, Tom Curry, Zach Mercer, Courtney Lawes and Hughes are all out of action – played a part in Armand’s call-up but added his involvement on the Argentina tour means he would not have any qualms about putting him straight into his side.
“My role is wherever it needs to be,” Armand said. “I haven’t come with any preconceived ideas. My job when I come up here is to make sure I put my best foot forward and if Eddie wants anything specific I can try to give it to him. If I thought I was hard done by [in the past] I would probably be thinking there were no improvements for me to make in my game but everyone has got improvements. You have to be quite stubborn to not take any work-ons you’re given. [Not being picked] is frustrating but I think it’s frustrating for anyone who thinks they can play at a high level. You have to keep on going and wait your turn, whether it comes or not.”
Jones believes Armand has the potential to provide the power he highlighted as absent against France but while he may prove a short-term solution to his problems, the coach has said he will not be calling a summit meeting with the Premiership clubs and referees to improve England’s breakdown failings in the long term.
If Jones, or the Rugby Football Union, were to encourage Premiership teams to contest the breakdown more – and referees to allow that competition – it may speed up England’s improvements.
Jones said: “I don’t have any jurisdiction on that. I can’t control it. It is not my responsibility to do that. All I can do it coach the team. I don’t strategise the future of English rugby. We are all in it together but you know it doesn’t operate like that.”
With Hughes and Lawes ruled out, Jones is set to make a number of changes to his side to face Ireland. He is uncertain yet if Dylan Hartley will recover in time from his calf injury but Jones confirmed he will select him if he proves his fitness. Mike Brown is likely to come back into the side at full‑back to counter Ireland’s kicking threat. It may well be Elliot Daly who makes way after he was taken for a scan on Monday on an injured foot that required a protective boot.
Jones has confirmed he remains on the lookout for an attack coach. He has never appointed one on a full-time basis, tending to oversee that area himself, but his fellow Australian Glen Ella assisted for the 2016 series whitewash against the Wallabies and in Argentina last summer. England scored seven tries against Italy at the start of the Six Nations but have managed only four in the subsequent three matches.
“We’re always looking to see how we can improve the coaching staff. That’s one we’re definitely looking at,” said Jones, who brushed off the criticism that has followed two defeats but revealed it had led to a phone call from his “upset” mother. “It’s not as if we can’t play rugby, we know we’ve got good players as they’ve played for the Lions and won games for England. I think we’ve got the best players. Sometimes you’ve just got to change the way you do things.”
England reported an incident, in which Maro Itoje felt he was the subject of a bite, to the citing commissioner following the defeat by France on Saturday. Television footage appears to show Itoje complaining to the referee that he had been bitten early in the second half and it is understood England’s QC, Richard Smith, took the matter up with the citing commissioner, Murray Whyte.
The Six Nations has confirmed that no citings have been brought forward. Whyte had until 48 hours after the match to make a citing and, speaking before the deadline had expired, Jones said: “We’ve got someone who looks at that for us and went to see the citing commissioner and he’ll deal with it. I’m not really here to talk about biting.”