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Six Nations: England mind games won't distract us, says Ireland boss Schmidt

RBS Six Nations championship

By Jonathan Bradley

If Ireland have paid much attention to the messages coming out of Pennyhill Park this week, they've been keeping it well hidden.

With champions England in town chasing both a Grand Slam and a record 19th straight win tomorrow (5pm kick-off), rugby's master of the mind games has been in full swing once again.

Eddie Jones' reign has been short, and to this stage unfathomably sweet for England, but Ireland already have experience of his desire to ruffle a few feathers in the build-up to an important Test match.

Last year, with Ireland preparing for a visit to Twickenham, Jones opined that Johnny Sexton's parents must be worried about his long-term health.

This time around matters were less personal, but with no less intent to rile.

Stating that Ireland were favourites for the title coming in, which was certainly not the opinion of the bookmakers, Jones said Joe Schmidt's men must be "grossly disappointed" with their Championship.

Ireland gave the vocal English supremo short shrift.

Winger Simon Zebo said: "I try not to listen to him too much, but from what I've seen of Eddie Jones he's obviously not afraid to speak his mind.

"He's new in with England and a fresh voice, a fresh atmosphere and they're obviously feeding off of him at the moment."

Despite that assertion, Jones remained on the offensive, reverting back to the old discussion point that his Dublin hosts will be all too willing to kick away possession come tomorrow evening.

Having already had to answer accusations that his side have become one-dimensional, Schmidt was yesterday doing his best to block out any "external noise".

"I haven't really seen it," he said of Jones' comments that Ireland's game plan would be "kick and clap".

"There is always external noise and if we get distracted by that it's not going to be productive for us. I think last year he might have said that we kicked 60 per cent of the ball that we had. And when it was mentioned to him that England kicked the ball more than we did, it probably wasn't convenient at the time."

Schmidt had more pressing things on his mind yesterday, namely the loss of his scrum-half Conor Murray.

The Munster No.9 was forced off during the defeat to Wales with a shoulder injury last time out but trained throughout the week.

But when the Irish team sheet was late to appear at Carton House yesterday, it seemed sure that something untoward had occurred, and indeed the 27-year-old had failed to pass a late fitness test.

It means a start for Connacht's Kieran Marmion, who impressed in his cameo last week but has rarely been handed front-line opportunities.

One of three changes to the starting side, Ulster duo Jared Payne and Iain Henderson will also feature.

Rob Kearney's knee injury opened up a spot at full-back for Payne while Henderson comes in for lock Devin Toner, who misses his first Six Nations game since Schmidt was appointed.

Belfast Telegraph

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