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Jones insists weakened England can challenge for Six Nations hat-trick

18 January 2018 18:46

Eddie Jones has rejected suggestions an England team depleted by injury and suspension is not capable of winning the Six Nations.

England have won the previous two tournaments after Eddie Jones succeeded Stuart Lancaster in November 2015.

The Australian coach is without a host of key players ahead of his side's opening match away to Italy on February 4, including banned pair Joe Marler and James Haskell and injured duo Nathan Hughes and Billy Vunipola. 

"You read the papers and we might as well not turn up," Jones jokingly told journalists upon naming his squad on Thursday.

"I don't know why we're having this press conference. Ireland's dominating Europe, their sides are going well. We've got 13 players out, we've got no hope. 

"I'm not a bookmaker, but I know I've got a squad [that's] good enough, that's going to work very hard, that's going to maximise the ability we've got and we're going to put ourselves in a position to win the Six Nations."

According to Jones, Wasps' Hughes could return for part of the Six Nations, but the coach does not expect injury-plagued Saracens star Vunipola to recover from a broken arm in time to feature.

"Nathan Hughes [will be back] halfway through, possibly," Jones said.

"He's probably rehabbing a little bit slower than we first thought, [but] I don't think we'll see Billy."

In the absence of both number eights, Bath's back-row forward Zach Mercer has found himself behind only Sam Simmonds in the pecking order for the key role at the base of England's pack. 

"The situation means he's got a shorter apprenticeship than was first envisaged," Jones said of the highly rated 20-year-old. 

"He's now fully available for selection, he's done well for Bath, I've been really impressed by his work-rate off the ball. There's a certain hardness about his game."

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