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Saturday 10 December 2016

'Hartley is fiery but so are most hookers'

Forwards coach Easterby unwilling to fall for England coach's mind games

Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby during a press conference at Carton House, Maynooth. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile.
Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby during a press conference at Carton House, Maynooth. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile.

Simon Easterby refused to get drawn into the minefield that is the mind of Eddie Jones.

The new England coach has already detonated a few verbal bombs by labeling the Irish as a 70% kicking team.

"It looks a little high to me," smiled Easterby, the Ireland forwards coach.

"I'd say probably half that would be probably more accurate."

The Australian throws out wildly inaccurate statistics like confetti at a wedding.

"It's something that he feels is a strategy to try and get us to change, to do something different or react to it.

"But, we can't fall into that trap," pushed the Yorkshire man.

"We've just got to try and stay focused on what we've done so far and what we plan to do, our strategy going into this week."

At this stage, Ireland have been well-tutored in the art of 'psychobabble' by Wales coach Warren Gatland, leaving them unimpressed by or unwilling to engage Jones.

"It's something that's been thrown out there. Those things get thrown out there most games before a match by some people."

The Ireland outlook has been to deal in reality rather than the mind games spat out by Jones.

"I think you can do that but it's what you hope to achieve from it.

"I suppose it's fine if you want to get reaction from other people and try to build something up.

"That's his thing and the way he deals with situations and the way he wants to put things in place.

"He's not dissimilar to other coaches. There are other coaches who do that as well. That's how it is.

"We've probably preferred to just keep our focus on what we're trying to do and make sure that we don't start putting things out there that aren't quite factually correct."

England are not immune to putting the ball to the sky themselves and a simple scan of the facts, not opinion, reveals they do it more often than Ireland.

"I know it's a continuing talking point, but kicking, receiving, challenging in the air; all those things are just the way the game has developed," he explained.

"It's a strategy that you use when you feel like it's on, a strategy you use to pressure a side, a strategy you use to relieve pressure and it will continue to be in the game.

"Some sides will kick more than others; some sides will kick more one week than the next.

"That's just the nature of the game," he added.

Jones is a confrontational coach and he has gone for a confrontational captain in Dylan Hartley.

"I think his history is his history and you can't hide from that," said Easterby.

"But I think Eddie was fairly adamant coming in that he felt he was the man to lead from the front.

"He plays in a position, as does Rory Best, that's fairly confrontational in terms of scrum and the work that he'll do around the pitch.

"He is a fiery character. But, there's not many hookers in the world of rugby who aren't."

The nature of the history between Ireland and England means this is the one that matters more than any other.

"There is always an edge to an England-Ireland match and having been lucky enough to play in a few of those I know what it means to play in them.

"It is a really important fixture for us at this stage and for them but that is really the main focus, how important the fixture is to us right now.

"The history is the history and we'll never forget that," acknowledged Easterby.

"But, it's important that we focus on the here and the now and the 80 minutes that is front of us on Saturday."

The England set-piece has always been the foundation of their game. The pursuit of power has always been their first port of call.

Former England lock Steve Borthwick got to know Jones at Saracens and they seem to be comfortable bedfellows from their remarkable stint at Japan.

"Their set-piece has been pretty strong and it will only get stronger with Steve Borthwick in there," said Easterby.

"He had a really strong hand with what Japan did at the World Cup, especially against Scotland and South Africa - both of those games, scoring maul tries, effective maul tries.

"They've (England) started pretty well and will be pretty happy with the situation they're in.

"They've played two away games and go to Twickenham off the back of two good results and two wins.

"What they're trying to do is fit into what their new coach wants and it seems to be working for them."

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