England boss Eddie Jones has heightened tensions with Ireland by claiming Johnny Sexton’s parents will be worried about his long-term health.
Jones claimed Ireland fly-half Sexton’s parents must harbour concerns about his well-being after his latest fitness scare in Ireland’s 10-9 defeat to France, branded a “whiplash injury” by Joe Schmidt.
Sexton appeared dazed on leaving the Stade de France pitch in the closing stages of the Saturday, February 13 clash, but has since made a recovery.
The 30-year-old will start Ireland’s Six Nations clash with England at Twickenham on Saturday, with Jones further intensifying strong scrutiny over his head injury saga, which saw him stood down for 12 weeks in 2014 after four concussions inside 12 months.
“Sexton is an interesting one, they’ve talked about him having whiplash injury which is not a great thing to talk about,” said Jones, after confirming Maro Itoje will replace the injured Joe Launchbury to make his full debut for England on Saturday.
“I’m sure his mother and father would be worried about that. Hopefully, the lad’s all right on Saturday to play.”
France have made a big issue out of deliberately targeting Sexton in recent clashes, and repeated the tactic in Paris, with Yoann Maestri receiving a citing commissioner’s warning for a late hit on the Leinster fly-half.
Ireland have been extremely careful to outline their complete trust in top medical professionals over Sexton’s health and fitness, especially where head injuries and concussions are concerned.
Former Ireland international George Hook has repeatedly called for Sexton to think very carefully about an early retirement given his history of concussion.
Each time outside observers question Ireland’s handling of Sexton, head coach Schmidt has kept his calm and insisted the national team adhere to the highest standards of safety and due care for one of their top stars.
England head coach Jones had already ratcheted up the tension with the Irish by claiming Schmidt’s side kick 60 per cent of their possession.
The wily Australian bristled however when quizzed on whether England could legitimately target opposition fly-halves in Test rugby.
“We target players all the time. That’s part of rugby is it not? Is there some sort of special law there?” said Jones.
“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 XV 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.