By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - England coach Eddie Jones has attacked the British media for the "rat poison" written when criticising Elliot Daly, while at the same time accepting that the player's form had not been up to par at the start of the Six Nations.
Jones dropped regular fullback Daly to the bench for the first time since his arrival last week but, in the injury-absence of Henry Slade, recalled him on Thursday for Saturday's final Six Nations trip to Ireland, but at outside centre.
"His form wasn’t very good at the start of the tournament, was it?," Jones told reporters. "We had a number of players like that, he wasn’t the only one. All those players have had to dig deep and find themselves, as the team has."
Asked immediately after that if Daly's confidence had been knocked, Jones launched an extraordinary assault on the UK media, where criticism of Daly and others had been widespread after the defeats by Scotland and Wales and a flat autumn series.
"I don’t think there is any such thing as confidence, you either think rightly or you think wrongly and the wrong time is when you start to listen to the poison that’s written in the media, that rat poison gets into players’ heads," Jones said.
"We try to spray all that rat poison that you try to put in and get it out of their head, so we are always working hard to keep it out of their heads. It keeps me busy mate."
Jones said he had not had to spend much time on the issue with Daly, one of the classiest players in his squad and a regular centre in the club game.
"Elliot is an experienced player, he’s got 50 caps, he can work it out for himself and he has," he said. "We’re really pleased that he is coming back to his best form and we know at his best he is a world-class player and we are anticipating that on Saturday."
Switching Daly to outside centre and adding Joe Marchant to join Ollie Lawrence on the bench means that Paolo Odogwu is still waiting for his first cap despite spending the entire championship in the squad.
Two months ago Jones described the Wasps man as potentially world class and possessing an X-factor but, having declined to give him a run in what seemed like the ideal opportunity against Italy, he has again opted to keep him in the stands.
"We are really pleased at the way he is going," Jones said. "Some players need a period of adaption and he is a much better player now. If he keeps working hard on his game and keeps attending to areas that he needs to do to be a Test player he is going to be a great prospect.
"But, given the context of the game against Ireland where it is going to be a huge aerial game, we feel that Joe Marchant is better coming off the bench for us."
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Toby Davis)