Six Nations Key Clash Preview: England v Ireland

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This is a potentially championship-defining weekend in the 2014 Six Nations. Should both currently unbeaten sides, Ireland and France, win again, the competition is effectively over. Whilst mathematically England or Wales could catch either of them, it would take a monumental turnaround in fortunes, given that one of Ireland or France would have to lose to one of the wooden spoon candidates, Italy or Scotland.

Before everyone’s head starts to hurt too much from the maths, let’s look ahead to Saturday’s salivating encounter at Twickenham.

England

The hosts have, for the first time in a while, a settled look about them. That said, a crucial cog in the big white machine has had to be replaced, as Dan Cole is ruled out for the rest of the season. Whether he has been overplayed or not, Ireland will be looking to get into his undercooked replacement Davey Wilson, in the hope that they can bring down what has thus far been an impressive unit.

Tom Wood and Chris Robshaw have worked brilliantly in tandem this Championship, but face undoubtedly their toughest assignment in recent times, up against the aggressive Peter O’Mahony and the understatedly brilliant Chris Henry. Billy Vunipola should continue his fine form and will look to barge his way over the gainline before offloading, as he has been doing to such great effect so far.

Danny Care and Owen Farrell have been working well so far in attack, but will need to make sure the accuracy of some of their tactical kicking improves. With conditions set to be better than at either the Stade de France or Murrayfield, England fans will be hoping the distribution skills of Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell, which have been somewhat overlooked so far, can bring the likes of Jonny May and Jack Nowell into the game more. The two wingers showed glimpses of their potential against Scotland, but will hope for more time and space this weekend.

George Ford could finally make his debut from the bench, but don’t expect to see him unless England look to have the game won.

Ireland

54 points scored and only nine conceded from the opening two rounds put Ireland in a commanding position, and they will arrive at Twickenham brimming with confidence. The ground holds no fear for them – they have a good record there, having won three of their last five encounters in London.

The Irish front row will be licking their lips at the prospect of an English opposing unit without Dan Cole in it, while at the lineout the soaring beanpole Devin Toner will provide the sternest examination yet of the hitherto strong Courtney Lawes – Dylan Hartley axis.

The back row is is beautifully balanced, with the quiet work of Chris Henry complimenting superbly the in-your-face aggression of Peter O’Mahony and the box office skills of Jamie Heaslip.

Half backs Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton kicked Wales into submission in the last game – they will have to be every bit as precise this weekend, as Mike Brown is as good as any at positioning himself to counter-attack. Andrew Trimble has been a revelation this championship, and while Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll do not steal the headlines in the way they used to, they have been quietly impressive so far and nullified Wales’ midfield threat last time out.

All eyes on

This has to be a game in which Billy Twelvetrees impresses. He was poor against France and good against Scotland, but there is still a sense that there is more to come from him. With conditions set to be good, Owen Farrell starting to attack the gainline more often and England finally boasting a set of outside backs with real threat, it is time for Twelvetrees to become the midfield linchpin England need him to be.

Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray was so good against Wales that he forced them to do the unthinkable – drop Mike Phillips. His tactical kicking was perfectly precise, which could be a big factor again this weekend given the inexperience of England’s wingers, as well as Danny Care’s waywardness at times. His well-oiled partnership with Sexton has been one of the highlights of the championship so far for Ireland.

Head to head: Davey Wilson v Cian Healy

The literal head to head between these two is going to be vital. Wilson, at his best, can more than hold his own at this level and would be pushing Dan Cole for the starting jersey. That said, he is not at his best at the moment, given that he has been out for two months and only returned to action last weekend with a wobbly 47 minutes for Bath, in which he looked under pressure in the scrum and off the pace in the loose.

Cian Healy, by contrast, has been chewing up and spitting out tightheads in the Six Nations so far, clearly benefitting from the new scrummaging laws, and from the knowledge that he can go hell for leather for 60 minutes and then take a breather with a more than capable replacement in the form of Jack McGrath on the bench to come on.

England have no such luxury at tighthead. Their reluctance to hand Henry Thomas a start, despite Wilson clearly lacking for fitness, speaks volumes, and is hugely worrying, given that it is unlikely Wilson will last the full 80 minutes. England will need to be ahead going into the last 20 minutes.

Prediction

In fact, picking one key head to head battle is impossible – there are match-ups across the park that will be crucial to the result. Ireland have looked the better team over both games so far, but England were hugely impressive at Murrayfield, learning from the loss to France and even managing to look good in attack, despite the conditions. If they can counter the Irish driving maul, as Wales fatally failed to do, and the abrasiveness of O’Mahony at the breakdown, then they will win. In the form of their pack, and the duo of Robshaw and Wood, they have the capabilities to do just that. Back at Twickenham, they will not be easy to beat. England by 3.

Heading to Twickenham for the game? Be sure to stick around afterwards for more top quality international rugby, as England women take on incumbent champions Ireland. Here’s a taster of what’s in store:

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

28 thoughts on “Six Nations Key Clash Preview: England v Ireland

  1. This is a classic “heart says England, head says Ireland” situation for me. I’m hoping that a few key factors add up in England’s favour: home advantage, the fact you could argue Ireland haven’t really been tested yet, Ireland’s wins have come at home so far, and our younger squad may have a bit more energy going into the final quarter.

    One thing’s for sure, I’ll need a “few” beers for dutch courage before this one starts…

  2. Ooh, ahhh. England to win tomorrow?. Tough call. With Cole out I can see Healy and Best really upsetting the unfit (in terms of match time) Wilson who will concede crucial penalties that Sexton will punish.

    Ireland will win the scrums, draw on the linouts and be quicker to the breakdown. England have great carriers in Vunipola and Wood but with Robshaw the only player facing O Mahoney, Henry and Heaslip at the crucial first seconds of the breakdown I can only but see Irelands supremacy here and in the rucks and malls.

    Murray and Sexton are in dangerous flying form. Care and Farrel are in form but a little too deep. I think the massively experienced O Driscoll, Darcy, Trimple and Kearney will hold their own and keep the relatively inexperienced English backline on the backfoot and upset. Ireland will not allow them to gel or settle. Sexton is key to ensuring this. And he will.

    Ireland will win by at least 2 tries.

    1. Some good points, especially on the scrum. That’ll be massive.

      Although I think that the issue with Davey Wilsson is that he won’t last. I think he’ll hold up well whilst he’s on, but once he tires, Thomas is going to get dominated at scrum time and Ireland will have the supremacy there for at least the last quarter.

      If it’s tight with 20 minutes to go I think it’ll go Ireland’s way

  3. England by 3? Wingers expecting more space? “Hugely impressive” beating a team that is falling apart by the same margin France beat a steady Italian team?

    This article seems to be written from the heart rather than the head. Ireland have been spectacular in their last two games, even thoroughly embarrassing the widely-considered favourites at their own game. England meanwhile, whilst having found stability and clearly becoming more comfortable as a team, have yet to offer any real threat in attack – Billy V and Luther B being the sole examples of real flowing attacking threat across the squad against Scotland. Their defense, whilst not below average, has not been impressive and this showed up against what was (in general) a great defensive effort by the Scots.

    Ireland will put more pressure on England in defense, giving them less time and space than they enjoyed in scoring just 20 points north of the border. England have done a lot of relying on their more experienced pack of late and they won’t be able to pull that off against a steamroller of a pack being fielded by Ireland. Without that secure base I can only see their attack stuttering even more than usual.

    England are finding their feet – but Ireland have already found theirs – Ireland by 8.

    1. Yeah no. Ireland have not been “spectacular” in their last two games. They were settled against Scotland and clinical against Wales. Neither performance was spectacular.

      1. Gawd – if Ireland’s performance in the last two games is ‘spectacular’ , the bar is really being set low.

        Totally agree with Chuckles

        But if Scotland are so rubbish and Ireland so much better than England, why did the Irish only score 2 points more than England against them, despite playing at home and on a decent pitch?

      2. I wouldn’t even say the were settled against Scotland. They had massive issues in midfield with BoD/Marshall. If they hadn’t been up against a team with the all the attacking prowess of a wet lettuce they may have found themselves in a bit more bother.

        What I will say though is that Schmidt acknowledged it and brought in the Leinster pair of BoD/Darcy for the Wales game. This sort of coaching, i.e. a coach who is prepared to believe his own eyes (unlike Gatland) could see Ireland prosper. He’s looking like the real deal and I think Ireland are going to do well going forward with him at the helm.

        But oh how I’m hoping England & Wales stop the GS contenders this weekend!

    2. So when England beat Scotland (away), they just beat a team falling apart at the seams. But when Ireland beat Scotland at home, but a similar margin, they are spectacular?

      I think you need to re-think who’s writing with head and heart.

    3. My heart is Scottish, so it certainly wasn’t written with that.

      Would echo what was said above, Ireland haven’t been spectacular by any margin – they have been clinical. For every bit of good Irish attacking play there has been an English one to match. Inexperience means they lost against France, but it looks like they’re starting to gel and are back at home, which will help massively.

      I also think England have a significantly better pack than Scotland or Wales and will be able to stop the Irish driving maul, which has been the basis of their two wins so far. I’m not confident either way, but I certainly can’t see it being an Irish mauling like last week.

  4. Scrum could be crucial and Ireland’s replacements look better than ours.

    Don’t agree with the breakdown. O’Mahoney and Henry will not just be facing Robshaw and Wood (who currently are a far better team than Lydiate and Warburton and who lost nothing to the ABs or Aus at the breakdown in the autumn) but also will have to face Lawes and Launchbury who have been hitting rucks and clearing out relentlessly

    So long at England counter-ruck and get there in numbers, as they have been, then the breakdown will be more or less equal.

    Ireland’s backline is solid rather than inspirational, with O’Driscoll now far better in defence than attack. With Nowell and May growing into the international game and Care on top form, England’s could have the spark that Ireland lack

    And if Vunipola, Robshaw and the locks can get England onto the front foot and generate quick ball then it could start looking good for us.

    Brown v Kearney will be worth the ticket price on its own.

    Still, am hoping that the Ireland that played Aus turn up, rather than the Ireland that played Wales (although think the Welsh made them look better than they are)

    Can’t call it but if it comes down to replacement time with the score more or less equal, then it’ll be Ireland’s game to lose

    BTW – does anyone know who the ref is? Whoever it is, I hope he’ll have the balls to punish O’Mahoney properly if he starts up with his constant whinging and questioning of decisions

      1. I feel a possible (nervous) breakdown coming at the breakdown! Could be interesting – could be demoralising.

        DDD

    1. I am not so sure that Ireland have a more effective bench than England.

      Perhaps in the Front Row they do, although whilst Cronin is a good player, Tom Youngs is a match for any hooker in the world around the park, but away from the obvious advantage that they will have on Englands TH side, I would suggest that England replacements are a match for Ireland.

      I would remind all that the lineout work of Rory Best fell apart completely in last years 6Nations, and did not really improve in Australia, so i think we can get a bit carried away with quite how good Ireland are.

      Attwood is in fine form, Morgan is as good as most 8’s in the tournament in the last 20mins, Dickson can keep a great tempo to the game, and we may not even see Ford (or Paddy Jackson for that matter).

      Vunipola may not be the next Andrew Sheridan in the scrums, but he is extremely effective in moving the game forward in the loose. There are not that many scrums in internationals, iIthink there were only 11 in the whole, wet, slippery game at Murrayfield.

      Alex Goode – away from the general negativity around him, I don’t mind him fielding kicks at FB. I would agree that he did not shine against France, but he has generally been very reliable for England.

  5. Hard to say. Both teams have another gear not seen yet I feel. My money is on Ireland, but it could be close.

  6. Have just noticed that Duncan Bell has come out of retirement to sign for the NG Dragons.

    Perhaps he is sensing another England cap???

  7. This is hard to call. At this level it all comes down to mistakes. Unfortunately England can probably come up with a handful of basic errors made at crucial times in the last 3 matches they have played that have cost them points, or the victory altogether. I don’t mind errors when the intent is to do something positive (think Burrell dropped a difficult pass against Scotland when he was clean through) but simple missed tackles and dodgy lineouts cost dear in internationals.

    I’m intrigued to see how Ireland will play against England. I thought they executed the game plan excellently against Wales, but it didn’t involve chucking the ball around at all. I don’t think they can kick as much against England and not expect Brown to return with interest, and I hope they think England’s lineout is more of a threat (at least when Hartley is on).

    I think they will look to try and play some rugby against England, pitch is normally good and the weather is supposed to be ok. Think this levels things a bit. Irelands backs are all good players, but I don’t see too much “magic from nothing” coming from them. Not to say that England are better in that department, but I reckon we will see a few things being tried for the first game at HQ.

  8. Can’t wait for this game I’m Irish and I cant call it either. But knowing Jo Schmidt he could have a completely different game plan. One other thing Peter o mahonys whinging let me remind of three world class miners. Austin Healy, matt dawson and martin Johnson. The refs ears would be hanging off him by the end of a match

    1. Can’t argue with those names – though at least Johnson was the captain and therefore meant to talk to the ref.

      O’Mahoney has been told at least three times now in two games to shut up and leave the ref alone but without any punishment he’ll keep on doing it.

  9. For my money the two sides are almost evenly matched, although the loss of Cole does arguably tip the scales in Ireland’s favour. I reckon England can deal with if not completely overpower the maul, it’s not as if we’re amateurs at it ourselves, so that attacking front won’t be as effective for Ireland as it has been so far (Wales are awful at mauls by and large). Ireland’s most rewarding tactic will be the same as France’s was against us, exploiting the vulnerabilities of the blitz defence with garryowens aplenty, and Sexton is a damn good kicker.

    Overall I think the deciding factor will be Twickenham. England by 2.

  10. The more Ireland are talked up, the better I feel (weird?). Could we all be overestimating the Cole injury. Wilson’s recent form for England has been great, and he will be better than against Exeter. Also, whilst Ireland executed their game plan last time out to perfection, can it be guaranteed that will happen again. i dunno. Despite the recent losses to NZ and France, I can’t help but feel there is a bit more steel to this England side than last year. Here’s hopeing home advantage and the atmosphere and the occasion lifts england. They have been wasteful in the last 2 matches, but if they click…

  11. As an irish fan the english pack is all that worrys me but i think we will hold are own in the scrums and the linouts and have two good ground hogs in henry and o mahony so should at worst hold are own at the breakdown. The english back line i think we need to realy go after 12ts if we can upset him witch i think we can given is lack of regular good preformances and the fact that he is fairly average player in my eyes. If we upset him we can starve burrel and the back three of good ball if we do that i cant see any plan b or anyting but the same off the bench so actualy feeling confident about this one. Had cole been playing and burrel at 12 and maybe may at 13 i would have more worrys about that backline but as is i think there beatable. At the end of the day this game will be won or lost up front if ireland hold there own here england wont have anything else to offer. irleand by a score

  12. I actually think, scrum aside, Ireland may dominate the breakdown more than people are saying. England seem to have struggled with the balance of putting men in the ruck against having them in the line to attack and this would play into the Irish hands.

    Head says Ireland but if England can get the win then the welsh game will be something special!!!

  13. dreading the second half when the substitiutes come on, i can’t help thinking that ireland will dominate the line out when youngs comes on and the scrum with thomas vs healy
    england need to get the points in before about the 60th minute when lancaster makes his subs, and try to hold on to the lead for the last twenty minutes

  14. Unless England have an absolute stormer I can’t see past an Ireland win. I really fear the scrum is going to be a nightmare, especially when Thomas comes on, and with Sexton’s tactical kicking and the Irish driving maul they will score a few tries. Can England score more? Hopefully but I’m thinking probably not.

  15. I hope and trust that this will be a great match to watch,but as much as I’d love to see them win,I think England will come up short.The loss of Cole is not just about the scrum-where we need to be able to launch big billy,but at the breakdown where his work will be missed and Ireland are so strong.Yes England will surely be looking to get points on the board early and this should make for a battle royal,but I think Ireland can weather the storm and go on to win.That said,if England are genuinely building for the world cup as a team of true mettle then tomorrow could be the day to prove it…

  16. Apart from the fact that Youngs can’t deliver at lineouts at the moment I feel England have got a pretty strong team. Dan Cole missing at tight head is disappointing but I don’t think it should be dwelled on too much. Strength in depth is a must at this level and if they can’t trust their reserves to rise to the occasion then hopes of world cup win should surely be forgotten.

    However, enough with the pessimism, England have got a pretty exciting back line at the moment. And if they can all reproduce the club form that got them here then at Twickers on saturday I think we will all see an English triumph. And just think of what we’ll be able to do with a full compliment available for selection???

    Whatever the outcome I think it will be a decent match for spectators. But to remain with a bit of optimism I think it will be England by 6!

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