Key Clash Preview: England v Ireland

Date: 17th March 2012
Time: 17:00
Venue: Twickenham Stadium
Referee: Nigel Owens


The head says caution whilst the heart screams confidence. One win in Paris does not a great side make, but that said England are a team on the up, both on and off the field. When considering the new names in the side against Ireland; Botha, Parling, Robshaw, Morgan, Dickson, Farrell and Barritt, three wins from five matches would be a strong return. Turn it into four wins however, and the 2012 championship would have been an outstanding one.


Ireland approach this game on a relative high, having drawn in Paris and comfortably beaten both Scotland and Italy. They will still be smarting at the perceived late injustice against the Welsh which has cost them a chance of the title. They have still only beaten one Top 10 side since they beat England at the end of last year’s tournament, but recent performances against England suggest they have an upper hand. Recent Twickenham history is mixed (3 wins out of 5, with the two losses being heavy).

What to Expect:

BC: A fully functional lineout steered by the impressive Geoff Parling, whilst at least parity if not flashes of dominance in the scrum. It will be at the breakdown where England are made to work their hardest. Their tactics have been to make the numbers as few as possible in the rucks, but that requires clinical technique on securing possession as well as strength. One advantageous area has to be the centres, where Manu Tuilagi’s power will trouble Gordon D’Arcy and Keith Earls.

MB: Quite simply the closest match-up of the tournament. On paper, and allowing for current form, Ireland will feel they have the upper hand in the back 3 and back row, while most fans would admit that second row and centre sees England having the upper hand. The front row and half backs are too close to call. Ireland will therefore take it to England up front aiming to dominate at scrum time and both win their line-out ball and try to spoil England’s. The backs also need to gel and effectively use the potent threat of Bowe, Trimble and Kearney.

All Eyes On: Ben Morgan & Johnny Sexton

It was hard to take your eyes off Morgan in Paris. He probed and threatened and then when a poor kick from Dupuy landed in his arms, took off. It’s a sign of what the new Gloucester signing has to offer, a power arguably not seen since Lawrence Dallaglio in his pomp. Against the holy trio of Stephen Ferris, Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip, Morgan will have to be at his most robust.

The two best fly halves of the tournament meet in this one, and after a better, if still not world-beating performance against Scotland, Sexton needs to have a big game on many fronts this weekend. He needs to control the game through accurate kicking, spin the ball wide to best utilise the wide threat, be an effective foil to D’Arcy and Earls in defence where they will come under pressure from Tuilagi and maybe most importantly he needs to rack up the points if England succumb to indiscipline. Sexton frequently saves his best for English opposition (as many seem to). Just ask Northampton….

Head-to-Head: Geoff Parling v Donnacha Ryan

19 tackles against Wales a fortnight ago marked Parling out as a force to be reckoned with. His initial leap ahead of Tom Palmer came as a surprise, but he has warranted his selection and alongside Botha the enforcer England for now have the perfect balance. The self-confessed “lineout nerd” could cement his place in the side with a solid showing this weekend.

Many Irish followers had been crying out for Ryan to accompany Paul O’Connell in the second row this year, but he had to make do with a part time role off the bench, as Donncha O’Callaghan kept his place. Ryan took his chance against Scotland extremely well, and was named Man of the Match, which will feed the belief of those fans who say this could be O’Callaghan’s last start. Against Parling, who has taken to international rugby like a duck to water, and Botha, Ryan has another stiff challenge, but his all-round game, allied to his current confidence, means he is a match for most at the moment. He will need to time his line-out leaping to allow the back row to peel round and put direct pressure on Farrell in defence.


Two form sides, one far more established that the other. England have come on leaps and bounds so far this tournament but Ireland in truth have been inches away from playing for a Grand Slam this weekend. Tricky. Ireland by 3. BC

This truly is a difficult one to call. Tempting as it is to risk the splinters and sit on the fence by going for a draw, I will plump for the side that I think is moving more quickly in the right direction, who is at home and who will be slightly fresher given that Ireland will have played 3 games in 14 days. England by 4. MB

by Ben Coles & Mark Bonsall

15 thoughts on “Key Clash Preview: England v Ireland

  1. Match to be called off because of a frosty reception!!!!!……….. Think not – Bring it on!

    Can’t wait for this one – should be a real Ding Dong!

  2. Should be an absolute cracking game. Ireland hold the edge in the back three, but only just. England for the first time in since Greenwood hold the edge in the centres, and I expect Tuilagi to put Earls under a lot of pressure, wouldn’t be surprised to see Farrel testing him with a few up and unders. On the wings, Ashton needs to have a very good game defensively against Tommy Bowe who has been in lethal form.

    Up front I would say England hold the edge. Morgan vs Heaslip should be a screamer, both similiar players, one experienced the other in the form of his life. Barrett to tackle the life out of the Ireland back three and Croft to run the angles.

    England by 3

  3. ARGH thanks for reminding me about Johnny Sexton against Northampton… still feel sick thinking about it now.

    I’m looking forward to see if Tom Croft can carry his excellent performance over from the last game, because it’ll be interesting to see what happens to the England back row after the Six Nations if Croft is right back on form. Tom Wood had a storming first start after injury against Scarlets last week, rightly picking up MOTM for his troubles. Realistically I think Wood is a better openside than Robshaw (who is a truly excellent blindside but has been filling a gap at 7), so it throws up a number of interesting back row conundrums:

    Croft, Wood, Morgan?
    Croft, Robshaw, Morgan?
    Robshaw, Wood, Morgan?

    What do people reckon?

    1. The last one, Croft is a luxury and should def be on the bench as he can cover back and 2nd row and will be great to bring on when legs begin to tire.

    2. Agree with Ben H, whilst Wood may not be as imperious a lineout jumper as Croft he is still top class. Wood and Robshaw give us a higher collective workrate, more physicality, and hopefully take a bit of the tackling responsibility off 10. Croft’s gas gives real impact off the bench.

  4. Nah, i reckon croft, robshaw, morgan at the moment.

    Croft’s cover defense was immense on weekend. Wood’s pace wouldn’t have got him there.

    1. The France game was a Croft type of game, fast and quite loose. I’ll be delighted if he backs it up again this week, but I fear it won’t be his type of game. Morgan doesn’t seem to spend too much time down and dirty at ruck and tackle time, so collective backrow workrate is where I think England are most vulnerable at the moment and Wood fixes that.

      Still it’s a nice debate to be able to have, a choice between a Wood or a Croft quality of player in all positions and we will be back to challenging the best.

      1. I have to say that Croft coming off the bench with fresh legs would be an impact substitution, but have you seen his lineout stats for this six nations – outstanding (I think he’s second in catches and first in steals). We’d be struggling more in this part of the game without him!

  5. England looked impressive in last too games but ireland still have so much class. Im going for a narrow irish win

  6. Well the U20s have got us off to a good start, Dan Robson superstar at 9.

    This is England’s toughest game in my opinion, even without BOD and POC gracing it. I think this is the biggest tactical test for the England coaching team. Ireland have generally been more successful at imposing their game plan on England than vice versa of late. If we take to the pitch and execute a strategy and tactics that prevent Ireland suffocating us in the tackle and at the breakdown then I’m fully joining the Lancaster bandwagon (win or lose).

    For the Irish I think they will have to use a similar strategy to the Worsley man marking Roberts plan. Otherwise I envisage Earls being a Tuilagi doormat.

    After a couple of glasses of red and the U20s win to lift the spirits …. England by 5.

    Good luck Wales.

    Come on England!

  7. Ireland are getting a pumping!
    English spirts are so high that there is absolutely no question in my mind of the outcome of this clash.
    The Irish have been far to cocky with all their pre match name calling!

  8. Funny isn’t it – a couple of weeks ago I had absolutely no hope for this game, but now….. !! Have to say that the no hope situation was definitely better on the nerves!

  9. I like Wood and I believe that England need a 7, the breakdown is still an issue. I’m not sure if Wood would be the answer but it is an option we have to look at. He is also a lineout option but if we want a true 7 we can’t have hime jumping, he has to be standing at the back waiting to pressure the other team or mnaming it to the first breakdown, if the ball goes wide. If he jumps he can’t do either.

    If we are to pick Wood as an out an out 7, that means Croft at 6 for his linout ability. I love the way Robshaw is playing,, he is a great player but I think we are looking for balance. Croft is not a tradititional 6 but people undervalue his work rate, his cover tackling is excellent and he is a 80 minute player, as his late try showed last week. Impact subs are overrated, if your winning from the start you don’t need an impact sub.

    Yes the game in Paris suited Croft, open and fast, but I would hope England have ambitions to play that way more regularly, so more games would suit Croft.

    My choice
    6 – Croft
    7 – Wood
    8 – Morgon

    at least we would have the fastest backrow in the world.

    1. Whilst waiting for the excitement to start I had a look at the 6N stats on ESPN

      P/R MR Tackles
      0/2  25 7/1
      2/6  22 9/2
      1/3  19 8/1
      0/4  5   5/1

      P/R MR Tackles
      1/4  18 18/0
      8/12 28 12/0
      6/5  7   14/0
      6/8  16   8/1

      These are:
      P number of times ball passed
      R number of time ball carried
      MR total meters run
      Tackles made/missed

      Passing the ball 3 times in 4 games is not enough for a 6, nor do the tackle stats compare too favourably with Ferris. If we are going to be able to use Morgan hanging back for kick returns then the backrow balance needs a 6 who will make more tackles and if Croft is in the offensive backline then we need more carries and more passes. If Croft is too valuable then we have to change how we use Morgan, or bring in Waldrom for better balance. I would rather have Croft on bench to bring him on for his speed and gallops later in the game.

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