Eddie Jones launched an astonishing attack on England’s critics after finally selecting Elliot Daly in what he now admits is the player’s preferred position.
Daly will start at outside-centre against Ireland, in Dublin tomorrow, replacing calf injury victim Henry Slade.
It will be the first time in nearly five years the Saracens ace has lined up in midfield, with Jones having capped him 31 times at fullback and 14 times on the wing since his last start at centre.
Jones admitted Daly had needed to “dig down deep into himself” to rediscover what makes him one of English rugby’s most gifted and versatile players – and conceded that hIs form “wasn’t very good at the start of the tournament”.
Yet rather than accept that Daly’s game and self-belief could actually have suffered from being picked at fullback for the last three years – he chose to blame “rat poison” in the media.
Jones said: “I’ve never seen confidence walk through the door, so I don’t know what confidence is.
“Players might think differently, they might work a bit harder, they might work a little bit less. I don’t think there is any such thing as confidence.
“You either think rightly or you think wrongly and the wrong time you start to listen to the poison that’s written in the media – and that rat poison gets into players’ heads.
“We try to spray all that rat poison that you try to put in and get it out of their head.”
The disagreement, from ex-players and pundits alike, has never concerned Daly’s ability, rather where best to harness it for the national good.
Jeremy Guscott has described Daly as the “most gifted three-quarter in northern hemisphere rugby, not far behind Beauden Barrett in terms of all round skill and talent”.
Fellow midfield legend Brian O’Driscoll reckons there is “nothing quite like the afterburners Daly’s clearly got”, adding: “Nothing matches raw pace, especially if you’re getting front-foot ball as a 13.”
Four and a half seasons and 45 Tests on from his last start as England’s centre of attention the hope is Daly will get back to his best.
Ireland, meanwhile, make six changes with Andy Farrell recalling experienced backs Conor Murray, Bundee Aki and Jacob Stockdale. Jack Conan, Dave Kilcoyne and Josh van der Flier come into the pack.
Farrell says Ireland will need their best display of the year to stand a chance of beating his son’s England team.
England are bookies’ favourites to win behind closed doors at the Aviva Stadium where the latest episode of the Farrell family’s fortunes takes place.
England captain Owen has come out on top in both matches since his dad took charge of the Ireland team after the 2019 World Cup. Prior to that, with Andy as assistant to Joe Schmidt, the ledger read two wins apiece.
“It’s our last week of the competition and we’re in determined mood to try and put a statement out there,” said Farrell snr.
“We’re up against a very good side. The standard of the England v France game was top notch.
“We have to give an 80-minute performance that is the best of our competition so far. We’ve got to have the courage to win the game.”
Red Rose skipper Owen says he and his team mates learned a lot about themselves in “tough times” during defeats to Scotland and Wales.
He predicted a “proper Test match, a tough, physical battle” and warned the Irish: “We’re still looking to build, we’re still nowhere near our best.”
Ireland: Keenan; Earls, Henshaw, Aki, Stockdale; Sexton (capt), Murray; Kilcoyne, Herring, Furlong, Henderson, Beirne, Stander, Van der Flier, Conan.
Replacements: Kelleher, Healy, Porter, Baird, O’Mahony, Gibson-Park, Burns, Larmour.
England: Malins; Watson, Daly, Farrell (capt), May; Ford, Youngs; M Vunipola, Cowan-Dickie, Sinckler, Itoje, Ewels, Wilson, Curry, B Vunipola.
Replacements: George, Genge, Stuart, Hill, Earl, Robson, Lawrence, Marchant.