What a difference two games can make? Prior to travelling to Murrayfield, England were most neutrals tip to win this tournament. After a humbling loss to Scotland and a narrow defeat to France on the road, pressure is building on this England team and on head coach Eddie Jones. Can England scupper Ireland’s Grand Slam, Triple Crown ambitions? Hawkeye Sidekick runs the rule on this current England side.
Ireland enter this fixture with confidence aplenty. Four wins from four in the tournament so far but the toughest road trip fixture looms large. Since the RWC 2015 debacle, England have made Twickenham once more a fortress, formidable venue for all foes and one that Ireland have not had the best of memories in recent visits.
Ireland’s last win at Twickenham came in 2010 with a 18-10 win. It is a poor record for Ireland to arrest even against a England side who are struggling for form and cohesion.
England Front Five Pack Platform
England’s recent losses in this tournament have being surprising but the front five have played to a high level. England pride themselves on the set piece and the statistics from last weekend’s loss to France saw excellent numbers.
England won both their scrums and disrupted France’s scrum (4/6). The line out functioned well with a 92% success and disrupted the French line out (54% success). The front five played well as an unit. George had an excellent contest and it will be interesting to see if the Saracens hooker retains his starting berth. Jones may be keen to bring Hartley back into the fold (why?).
Maro Itoje is a phenom; set piece execution coupled with his mobility, pace and work rate means that the Saracens second row will pose the single biggest threat to Ireland in this tournament. A front five unit who will test Ireland in all facets of play.
Back Row Woes
There is a question mark on the England back row selection for the Ireland test match. Nathan Hughes and Courtney Lawes will not feature due to injuries sustained against France.
No Billy Vunipola has being a massive loss to England in this tournament. The Saracens number eight provides the platform for the side to flourish. His ball carrying is incredible.
Given the injuries sustained by England in this unit, Chris Robshaw looks set to feature. An indifferent tournament so far, Robshaw provides experience but has being isolated in breakdown work as well as being penalized for offside infringements.
Simmonds and Haskell look set to feature for England; both will look to improve the breakdown facet of play. Simmonds’ mobility with ball in hand was seen to good effect against Italy with a brace of tries. The issue is whether the new back row unit has the balance required to offset at times rampant Ireland back row unit; question marks exist in the breakdown work.
England Game Plan?
After four rounds of the Natwest 6 Nations tournament, the England game plan has yet to take shape. The expansive side of play was seen against Italy and there were flashes against Wales. Progression so it seemed.
However, the last couple of test matches have seen England look quite one dimensional in their ball carrying with minimal offloading. Only five offloads from England against France last weekend; raising questions about ball carrying player offload options or is it a confidence issue within the ranks?
The Ben Te’o selection pointed to an abrasive ball carrying game plan and so it proved against France. I thought England would look to change things up and offload in the tackle more last weekend but it never materialized.
May and Watson received precious little quality ball to impress along with Daly. The game plan was conservative in nature. Penalties were slotted over from long range; no ambition to hit the touchline deep into France territory and test the hosts defensively on their own line until the death.
England right now have no game plan identity. The entertainment factor is in short supply. Will they unveil a more creative, expansive game plan against Ireland? Time will tell.
The penalty count has being an issue in this tournament for England. Offside infringements the order of day against France particularly in the opening period when France were struggling to create a platform.
Fifteen penalties conceded by England. A yellow card issued to Anthony Watson whose high tackle prevented a near certain try. The penalty count is something that Ireland will look to expose; execute multiple phases of play and see if England come out of their defensive line too quickly.
Full Back Issue?
Mike Brown was the defacto England full back up until the Scotland test match in round three. Brown is an excellent test match full back. Defensively solid, good organizer and pace hitting the line.
It was a difficult game for Brown as England were defensively opened up against Scotland. Brown was the fall guy for the system failures.Anthony Watson was summoned to fill the role against France but it was an indifferent performance. Watson’s desperate high tackle on Fall saw a yellow card and a penalty try. It summed up his performance perfectly. Inaccurate.
England surely need to revisit the full back slot again. Will they decide to recall Brown or will they move Daly to the position? Intriguing management decision on a key position for England. Watson is a serious threat on the wing but the full back experiment failed in Paris.
In recent weeks, I have mentioned that this crisis for England is a blessing in-disguise ahead of 2019 RWC. Team issues have surfaced and England management have an opportunity to analyze and address these issues, improve and progress ahead of the tournament.
England is stacked with serious talent. Farrell, Ford and Care have the potential to create excellent line breaks if given the opportunity. Excellent kicking game when you add Daly’s big boot on long range penalties. All to play for. Ireland face their Mount Everest in the tournament this weekend, only a perfect performance from Joe Schmidt’s men will suffice to get over the line on Saturday given the expected England response!