England coach Jones casts doubt on Sexton selection
LONDON (AP) — England coach Eddie Jones cast doubt on the wisdom of Ireland selecting Johnny Sexton for the teams' Six Nations match on Saturday, saying the flyhalf's parents would be concerned about his health problems.
Sexton sustained what Ireland coach Joe Schmidt described as a "whiplash injury" during the 10-9 loss to France on Feb. 13. Sexton has also been prone to concussions.
"Sexton is an interesting one, they've talked about him having a whiplash injury which is not a great thing to talk about," Jones said Thursday.
"I'm sure his mother and father would be worried about that. Hopefully, the lad's all right on Saturday to play."
Schmidt has said Sexton is "absolutely" fully fit and ready to play at Twickenham. Ireland has followed medical advice when it comes to Sexton's health and fitness.
Sexton had a 12-week break from rugby in 2014 after suffering four concussions inside 12 months.
Jones was unhappy when asked if England might target Sexton on Saturday, as players from France's national team said they have done before.
"We target players all the time. That's part of rugby is it not? Is there some sort of special law there?" Jones said. "There are 15 players out there. Are we supposed to not run at one player? Hang on, hang on, he's got a red dot on his head, we don't run at him.
"Rugby's a game of 15 players on the field. When we're attacking, we're attacking weak defenders. Why would we run at the strongest defender? We are not going to run at their strongest defenders, we'll always run at their weakest. I'm not saying Sexton is a weak defender. Maybe France did. We're going to be targeting players in the Ireland side."
Seeking a third straight win to begin his tenure with England, Jones selected Maro Itoje on Thursday for his first start for England. Itoje, a former England under-20 captain and widely regarded as a potential star of the future in English rugby, got his chance after fellow lock Joe Launchbury was ruled out of contention with a hamstring injury.
The only other change from the 40-9 win over Italy in Rome saw Joe Marler return at loosehead prop in place of Mako Vunipola. Elliot Daly could make his England debut off the bench at Twickenham.
England started the Six Nations by beating Scotland away, so is still on for the Grand Slam.
Ireland won the last two Six Nations tournaments but is without a win heading into Round 3.
"Playing our first game at Twickenham after two away fixtures will be huge for us," Jones said. "We're determined to put in a strong performance against a clever Irish side who are the benchmark of European rugby."
England: Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell, Jack Nowell, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Billy Vunipola, James Haskell, Chris Robshaw, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley (captain), Joe Marler. Reserves: Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Paul Hill, Joe Launchbury, Jack Clifford, Danny Care, Elliot Daly, Alex Goode.
Ireland: Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble, Robbie Henshaw, Stuart McCloskey, Keith Earls, Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray; Jamie Heaslip, Josh van der Flier, CJ Stander, Devin Toner, Donnacha Ryan, Mike Ross, Rory Best, Jack McGrath. Reserves: Richard Strauss, Cian Healy, Nathan White, Ultane Dillane, Rhys Ruddock, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, Simon Zebo.