Six Nations 2018: England vs Ireland Preview

Ford and Farrell

Farrell and Ford

Date: Saturday, March 17th (St Patrick’s Day)
Venue: Twickenham
Kick-off: 14:45pm

England
Well, I don’t know how much more I can say about England at the moment. It’s all very well that the Calcutta Cup was a “learning curve” but then how does one take that seriously when Eddie Jones doesn’t change his unbalanced, malfunctioning back row for the French game? And it so showed.

Ireland have been the party poopers of England’s grand slam hopes for a while now (2017, 2011 and 2001) and I feel like it’s England’s turn to spoil the party. And what a better day to do it on, St Patrick’s day!

Jones has made a few significant and long overdue changes to his matchday squad. Hartley returns from injury to start at hooker and captain the side (Jamie George needed a big game against France which unfortunately didn’t happen). Kyle Sinckler earns his 10th cap and 1st start for England with stalwart Dan Cole on the bench. As both a passionate Leicester & England fan, I’m in disbelief over the criticism of Cole. He may be a dying breed of prop but he is committed and passionate and was in great form before the Six Nations (named in both mine and the official Premiership team of the week numerous times) and was the Tigers’ Player of the Month for December. Some England “Fans” like to use Cole as someone to vent all of England’s problems on. So what if he doesn’t carry significantly? That’s not his role in the team and it never was.

Also while Sinckler’s impact in the loose last week couldn’t be doubted, against Ireland’s in form and experienced scrummager Cian Healy, Sinckler could have a long afternoon at the scrum, especially with Vunipola on the other side who’s best attribute was never in the scrum.

George Kruis has come in to partner Itoje in the second row. Kruis hasn’t played well since returning from injury last season but will fill the void in the lineout left by the injured Courtney Lawes. Hurrah, Eddie Jones has finally moved Robshaw back to his best position at blindside, whilst James Haskell is promoted from the bench after making a considerable contribution last week. Sam Simmonds is promoted from the bench after Nathan Hughes’ season-ending injury.

Richard Wigglesworth swaps with Danny Care at scrumhalf which in my opinion is the right call as Wigglesworth is a seasoned player who’s 1st-rate box-kicking and organisation while Care is an impact finisher at international level, nothing more.

Farrell has moved to fly half from inside centre with George Ford dropped to the bench, which to me brings back horrible memories of the World Cup. Yes, Ford was anonymous against Les Bleus but so would have Jonny Sexton been if his back-row was unbalanced and woefully underperforming.

Ben Te’o has moved to inside centre and Jonathan Joseph outside him at 13, although I think that the latter selection is based on reputation than form to be perfectly honest. Henry Slade should be at outside centre, not Joseph.

Joe Launchbury has been moved to the bench which I believe is harsh, it should be Itoje not Launchbury on the bench. Don Armand is set to make his long overdue Six Nations debut and his 2nd cap after injury to Hughes.

In front of a Twickenham crowd, with a proper back row and determination to avenge last year’s defeat, England are capable of turning their recent slump around, restoring momentum and pride. But Ireland will be hungry for their 3rd Grand Slam in history so England will have to be on top form to deny the Irish what the men in green have denied England on so many occasions in the past.

Ireland
Ireland were slight favourites at the start of the tournament and, while their attack hasn’t been spectacular, their effectiveness in the red zone has meant that every game (apart from the win in France) has been won with a bonus-point. But all of those victories were at the Aviva Stadium, and the win at the Stade de France could have gone either way.

Their defence needs to be better as well. I really like Andy Farrell as a defence coach and he is one of the best in the world as proven on both Lions Tours in Australia and in New Zealand, so I’m sure that Ireland’s leaky-ish defence is a minor and temporary problem. So Ireland aren’t the finished article yet but they’re still streets ahead of anyone else in the Northern Hemisphere at the moment, mainly due to the player management which Ireland have got just right (correcting the mistakes of the World Cup and the Champions Cup afterwards).

Joe Schmidt has made one change to his starting XV with the powerful Iain Henderson swapping with lineout giant Devin Toner. Rob Kearney, Peter O’Mahony and Cian Healy have shaken off niggling injuries to start.

Ireland will know that England haven’t attacked consistently this season, so I don’t believe that their under par defence will be a glaring issue. With a weak scrummaging front row of Sinckler and Vunipola, I believe the scrum will be a priority target of Ireland with both Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong playing incredibly well. Ireland know that their attack has been two-dimensional at best so I can see them doing an “Exeter” and clocking in the phases into the red zone and try and test England’s defence to the limit. That is a more than capable task as the England seem to have been over-trained this season and so could be shattered come the 60th minute.

All eyes on
For the Irish, my eyes will be on Ulster flyer Jacob Stockdale who has developed a reputation for intercepts so England have to be so careful when throwing the ball around in Stockdale’s channel. His defence has been identified as a weakness but it’s nothing on a Christian Wade-level from what I’ve seen so I don’t think England will gain too much from launching the big ball carriers of Simmonds and Sinckler at his throat.

For England, my one to look out for will be James Haskell, an experienced flanker and England stalwart who returns to the international scene to start his 1st Six Nations game since England last faced Ireland last year. He looked strong against Les Bleus and will look to improve England’s broadly-stated problems at the breakdown.

Head to head
Jonathan Joesph and Garry Ringrose is quite an interesting head to head as they are both similar in attack yet the latter is clearly the one in form at the moment. Lions teammates Jonny Sexton and Owen Farrell (who hasn’t started at flyhalf for England since the 3rd test in Australia back in 2016) is another crucial head to head with both playmakers trucking up good metres in attack this Six Nations, though Sexton is ahead in terms of kicking accuracy. However, my most important head to head is Conor Murray vs Richard Wigglesworth, both scrum-halves are renowned for their box-kicking accuracy and control of the game, so I think that this is the key battle and it is where the game will be truly won.

Prediction:
Please see Hutch’s article later today with all the Six Nations Predictions.

By Jacob Bassford

18 thoughts on “Six Nations 2018: England vs Ireland Preview

  1. I think we will have to agree to disagree on Dan Cole. While a case for carrying the ball not being his role can be made, that is not all he is being criticised for. If he is not carrying, I certainly expect him to be tackling, rucking, making a nuisance of himself at breakdowns and mauls – things that have been obvious for their absence this tournament. With the number of collisions and rucks having apparently gone up around 20% (I am quoting Eddie Jones for the stat here), there is no room for passengers. The game has changed – it always does and will again – he is a forward and part of a pack, not a statue to be trotted out at scrum time. He may be a committed and passionate player, but I haven’t seen that translated into performance in the past few games.

    Even with the carrying issue, everyone should be able to, to a certain extent. Chris Jones and Ugo Monye discussed him on their 5Live podcast this week: if you were a half back and saw Cole going towards a half gap, you would think twice before giving the ball to him – moment lost. And because of that, he is not fixing defenders so even his role as a dummy runner (something he used to do a lot) has been lost.

    By no means is he the only player at fault for England’s losses, but to suggest all a prop at international level, in the (now) third best team in the world, has to do is be solid at the scrum, in my opinion is just wrong. I too am a Leicester and England fan, but unfortunately I cannot keep evangelising Cole based on his historic and club form. Sinckler in for Cole I believe is the right decision – I may end up with egg on my face should he be beasted by the Irish front row, but that will be a fault of Sinckler, and doesn’t mean that Cole is untouchable for criticism.

    Anyway, fingers crossed for England – here’s hoping they can ruin the Irish party, and in some style.

      1. Haha yes, think would be my starting choice for the WC, good mix of the two styles of prop. Sinckler maybe has more raw talent and was brilliant on the Lions but needs to show his scrummaging can hold its own. Saturday vs Healey is as good an opportunity for that as any…

  2. On a separate note – I agree that Launchbury being benched rather than Itoje feels like an odd move. The only reason i can think of is Itoje is a better lineout forward. Also agree re Slade – I think that, given the high number of arguably more necessary changes, Jones may have baulked at making even more for fear of ruining any rhythm the side has (not that it has much).

  3. Totally agree with Henry about Cole. He has been anonymous outside of scrum time and it is not good enough at this level. It could simply be that he is worn out as a lot of these players are. If so then why is he in there at all.
    For me Cole is not the only one who should be benched for this game. Mako and Itoje are two others who look knackered. I’m guessing the more familiar partnership of “Krutoje” is Eddie’s reason for Launchbury being the one on the bench?

    In the backs I totally agree with Wiggy starting with Faz at 10. They play together week in week out and with a bosher type player at 12 (although T’eo is a bit more than that!).
    I wouldn’t be surprised to see T’eo targeting the 10/12 channel in attack. Whilst Sexton is a reliable tackler he will get frustrated if he gets caught up in the tackle too often. Outside of them I expect to see JJ get more ball (providing the pack can keep hold of it!!) and create space for Daly, May and Watson to exploit.
    I also expect to see lots of kicks from Wiggy for the back three to chase. Whether box kicks or grubbers in to space, that is where Wiggy will come in to his own. He is also a different option for touch finders with a very good left foot.

  4. I do like the look of Teo (12) and JJ (13), I just hope Wigglesworth can get quick ball and, similarly, delivery the ball quickly to Farrell. Teo at 13 seemed to cut off options outside against France. Whilst his ability to straighten and target the inside shoulder are good, I cant help but think this is his first thought each time he gets the ball. JJ at 13 should give England more of a chance to go wide, and utilise the attacking qualities of the back-3.
    I would be weary of kicking too often though, England have been more than happy to kick away possession, with few kicks being recovered. Kearney was in great form against Scotland, and Stockdale and Earls will both relish the chance to return inaccurate kicks with interest.

  5. I’ll jump on the Cole bandwagon too. With a caveat – I do believe that his scrummaging in this 6 nations has been good, and whilst this was always his prime strength, he did seem to lose his way in the tight since the start of the Jones era.

    “Committed and Passionate”? – this wasn’t very evident clearing the rucks over the last two games. He clearly struggled to ‘win the shoulder’ at many of the breakdowns.

    1. With you on Cole except for the scrummaging. When was the last time he had his opposition’s number at an international level? I can’t think of any recent occasions.

      Scrum was good vs France but mostly cos the ref took exception to the French tight head.

      Meanwhile the scrum was poor vs Scotland and Cole was under the cosh against Scotland’s 3rd (?) choice loosehead.

      So if he’s not besting the oppo in the scrum, he’s not carrying and he’s not clearing rucks, what is he there for?

    2. Cole is a secondary ruck-clearer after the back-row so I’m not surprised that he was efficiently clearing the ruck all the time against France because he’s doesn’t normally do that all of the time , plus all of England’s players are over-trained anyway, not just Cole

      1. We’re not talking about the other players though, we are talking about Cole. And I don’t care whether he is secondary, tertiary or quaternary ruck clearer – he is not clearing rucks effectively.
        So he doesn’t do that, he doesn’t carry, his tackling is respectable but nothing more and he doesn’t dominate in the scrum. To repeat, what is he there for?

        1. I am talking about Cole, and it does matter because the backrow should be clearing out the rucks, not the prop. We should be blaming the backrow for England’s horror show these past two weeks, but no we can’t dare blame Robshaw because we might up upset him again like after the World Cup. Do you see Sinckler clearing rucks? No, he’s a great player in the loose but he is not a modern complete prop, unlike Tadhg Furlong opposite him who is currently world class

  6. Jacob Bassford

    No ones knocking Dan Cole personally. Nor does anyone deny he has been England’s go-to prop.
    But the difference when Sinkler came on was palpable.
    I feared for the safety of the tackling French players such was the thwack eah time Sinks ran into the pkayers he was ‘targeting’ like an exocet missile.
    Sinkler is definitely the future and straight out of the AB guidebook to propping.
    Time i would say to utter the words…”Thank you Dan but now its over to Kyle!”

  7. Scotland seriously exposed Ireland when the ball was moved wide, and but for a few missed passes the game could have gone the other way quite easily. The last minute drop against France has been done to death. The question is wether Ireland have acquired an NZ like knack of winning close games, or knicked England’s rub of the green.

    Personally I think England will spoil the party. England are due a game when things click, and the starting team has more balance to it. I think Te’o will expose Aki, and finally give JJ the bit of space he needs.

    I would have liked to see Haskell at 8 and Simmonds at 7 as it would be development but concede the expierence levels have driven the positions.

    A much improved back row performance from England is imperative, but it’s containing Murray and Sexton that will be the deciding factor, and that’s a mighty big task.

    It’s gonna be proper test match rugby tomorrow….brilliant.

  8. Just t add to the front row debate, I think EJ has panicked again in picking Sinckler to start. Harry Williams should have started. He has beef,can anchor a scrum and is more mobile than Cole. Sinckler is ideal for the last twenty, especially if we are chasing the game and need someone to target the Irish backs with wrecking ball running
    If the Irish pack dominates from the off we are in big bother and there is the added question mark over Sinckler’s temperament.
    Ireland by 12.

  9. Very surprised Watson was picked at 15 for this match. He looked shaky under the high ball in the last quarter against Scotland and will be ruthlessly targeted by Murray and Sexton. This doesn’t feel like the right match to have him there and we could leak tries at the back. If ever there was a game which favours Brown it’s this one.
    Lots of Sarries combos today…how much is the decline in Sarries form linked to the decline in England ‘s?
    Man for man if you compare the teams we do have the players…am praying Maro, Kruis, Mako and so on go up a gear today!

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