England are improving but nowhere near their best, coach Eddie Jones said after his side put last year’s disappointing Six Nations behind them with a thumping 32-20 victory over holders Ireland on Saturday.
Without a victory in Dublin for six years and having to go back two years before that for the last time they even crossed the try line at the Aviva Stadium, England secured what before kick-off seemed to be the unlikeliest of bonus-point wins.
Their four tries and physical dominance over an Irish side not used to losing battles up front built on an encouraging November series that had already put last season’s fifth-place championship finish in the rear-view mirror.
“We’re a team that’s still growing, we’re nowhere near our best,” Jones told a news conference, where he nevertheless delighted in the intensity his side showed.
“Some games are immensely physical, some are more tactical and we went in there and probably shaded them a little bit in that area. We know they’re a top team but I thought our intensity, particularly in the first part, was outstanding.”
The Australian singled out captain Owen Farrell for praise alongside try scorers Henry Slade and Jonny May but was most pleased with his front five — one of whom, Maro Itoje, had departed the game with a medial ligament injury in his knee, he said.
The leadership and composure England showed — particularly when conceding eight penalties to Ireland’s four — was also key, Jones said. Such characteristics bode well in a World Cup year but the coach’s thoughts were not drifting to Japan in September.
“These games have got nothing to do with the World Cup, these games are standalone games between a very good Ireland side and an improving England side and that’s how we’ll look at them,” he said.
“We’ll start worrying about where we are standing in the World Cup when we’re 10 days out from the first game.”
Nor was he thinking beyond next week’s home game against France to a possible third Six Nations title in four years.
“If you take away the 14 points they gifted Wales, they would have won that game so we’re not going to get too far ahead of ourselves. We know France is going to be a difficult game,” he said.