Hawkeye Sidekick

England primed for Irish challenge at Twickenham

Eddie Jones: Can Ireland physically dominate England?

“As their coaching staff said, they were dominant, so the challenge is can they bring a dominant Irish performance to Twickenham?

Eddie Jones pregame quote ahead of England vs. Ireland at Twickenham (Nov 19th, 2020)

Eddie Jones threw down the gauntlet to Ireland during the England test match selection press conference earlier today asking whether Ireland would bring a dominant performance to Twickenham.

Recent test match fixtures between England and Ireland would suggest that Ireland have plenty to prove on that point given the physical beatdown that England have inflicted on Ireland in the last eighteen months.

Hawkeye Sidekick reviews the test match selections here. It may be the Autumn International series but you get the sense that Eddie Jones and Andy Farrell are approaching this fixture in the same manner as a Six Nations or even World Cup encounter.

Team Selections:

England: E Daly (Saracens); J Joseph (Bath Rugby), O Lawrence (Worcester Warriors), H Slade (Exeter Chiefs), J May (Gloucester Rugby); O Farrell (Saracens, capt), B Youngs (Leicester Tigers); M Vunipola (Saracens), J George (Saracens), K Sinckler (Bristol Bears), M Itoje (Saracens), J Launchbury (Wasps), T Curry (Sale Sharks), S Underhill (Bath Rugby), B Vunipola (Saracens).

Replacements: T Dunn (Bath Rugby), E Genge (Leicester Tigers), W Stuart (Bath Rugby), J Hill (Exeter Chiefs), B Earl (Bristol Bears), D Robson (Wasps), G Ford (Leicester Tigers), M Malins (Bristol Bears).

Ireland: Hugo Keenan (Leinster Rugby), Keith Earls (Munster Rugby), Chris Farrell (Munster Rugby), Bundee Aki (Connacht Rugby), James Lowe (Leinster Rugby), Ross Byrne (Leinster Rugby), Jamison Gibson-Park (Leinster Rugby); Cian Healy (Leinster Rugby), Ronan Kelleher (Leinster Rugby), Andrew Porter (Leinster Rugby), Quinn Roux (Connacht Rugby), James Ryan (Leinster Rugby – captain), CJ Stander (Munster Rugby), Peter O’Mahony (Munster Rugby), Caelan Doris (Leinster Rugby).

Replacements: Rob Herring (Ulster Rugby), Ed Byrne (Leinster Rugby), Finlay Bealham (Connacht Rugby), Iain Henderson (Ulster Rugby), Will Connors (Leinster Rugby), Conor Murray (Munster Rugby), Billy Burns (Ulster Rugby), Jacob Stockdale (Ulster Rugby). 

Physicality:

No point dodging the question. How will this Ireland side look to negate the line speed aggression and physicality of England at the gain line?

The side have struggled to come up with answers in the previous three test matches; Ireland ball carriers put on their backside at a rate of knots, zero go forward and England controlling the fringes.

What are Ireland going to bring to the table this weekend? Ross Byrne is named at fly-half. Can he vary the game plan sufficiently to make England think twice about sprinting off their defensive line positions?

Can he provide ingenuity to the test match by executing some grubber kicks, aerial spirals to the likes of Joseph and May early to potentially secure good field position for the side?

England have named their big guns for this test match. As Eddie Jones admitted today, this is one of their marquee fixtures of the year. There is a rivalry in this fixture.

The back row of Underhill, Curry and Vunipola reunite for the second time since the RWC 2019. Complement to Ireland but also a big task for Ireland’s back row unit in the breakdown battle.

Breakdown Battle:

“Ireland are the strongest poaching team in the world, the number one poaching team in Europe, so we need an aggressive, low to the ground back row. Sam Underhill and Tom Curry are outstanding in that area,”

Eddie Jones press conference on November 19th, 2020 ahead of England vs. Ireland match

As mentioned, it is a massive complement from Eddie Jones to call out this at the press conference. Jones and coaching staff are really looking to take Ireland head on in the breakdown hence this selection.

Curry and Underhill are superb breakdown specialists, great work rate and mobility. Vunipola is a ball carrying phenom. O’Mahony and Stander will provide physicality but are we missing balance in this back row unit in terms of breakdown speed?

Doris has a massive task on Saturday to be that speed in the unit? Epic tussle awaits, favor England given the balance here.

Set Piece:

England will target the Ireland lineout, no question. They have seen the issues on the set piece in recent test matches. The line out calls from Ryan and Roux will need to be on point, allow Kelleher to get into tempo. England’s line out options are imposing. Itoje, Launchbury, Underhill and Curry will provide Jamie George with a vast array of jumpers to chose from. Expect England to target this early so Ireland will be warned.

The scrum is an intriguing subplot. Healy, Kelleher and Porter vs. Vunipola, George and Sinckler. Porter had a superb outing last weekend but this is different standard. Sinckler is an excellent player but he can be rattled so can Healy and front row get to the player? If they can, penalties will follow. Ireland need to attack in this set piece. The set piece battle looks delicately poised.

Open Play:

There is potential explosiveness in both back three units selected. Keenan, Earls, Lowe vs. Daly, Joseph, May. All players capable of making line breaks out of nothing.

Lowe’s debut last weekend could have gone any better but this is the acid test; away to England and he will be asked serious defensive questions in this test match.

Is Lowe’s defensive nous as smart as his attacking side of play? We have not seen his defensive side tested to the limits with Leinster Rugby but I suspect he will be this weekend. It will be an interesting watch.

Keith Earls comes back into the side but with precious little game time in recent weeks. Will England target him early on the aerial exchanges?

Nothing worse to come back into the test match arena with no significant game time. Earls will have trained well as usual but there is no substitute for actual game time. A concern.

Hugo Keenan retains the full back role for this marquee test match. He has looked solid under the high ball and provided attacking threat hitting the line last weekend?

A quality display against England and I think Keenan is the first choice full back regardless of when Jordan Larmour comes back to the test match fold.

England’s back three unit is interesting. Joseph for me is a three quarter, talented footballer but perhaps could be exposed in defensive situations out wide.

May and Daly are superb players. May’s progression in the last three season has been sensational; defensively so tight now and his attacking / try scoring was never in question. Daly’s big boot and his ability to hit the line.

Two units who if given quick ruck ball could create and score tries at will. I am excited to see how each unit fare.

Half Backs

The OTB interview with Ronan O’Gara earlier this week was an interesting listen. Ross Byrne and Billy Burns slot into the ten jersey depth chart this weekend. Conor Murray has shown his versatility to play the role if required but it is a disaster recovery option.

Gibson-Park’s impressive debut against Wales dictated that he start this weekend. It will be interesting to see how the player reacts to potential English pack slowing ruck ball.

Gibson-Park relishes quick ruck ball to orchestrate attacking plays. If he encounters what Conor Murray has found in recent fixtures with England, he will need to improvise. Kicking game comes into focus.

England have gone with tried and trusted for this encounter. Youngs and Farrell at half back means George Ford makes do with a place on the bench. The game plan is clear.

Youngs box kicks and varying the play enough to allow Farrell to unleash his back line at key periods during the opening period. An experienced unit vs. inexperienced unit in this area of the park. Can Gibson-Park and Byrne rise to the occasion?

Three Quarters:

This is an area where Ireland should enter the test match with some confidence. Aki and Farrell vs. Slade and Lawrence.

Lawrence has produced excellent performances for his club Worcester Warriors and this is a big opportunity to stake further claims on the thirteen jersey. Slade comes off a massive club year with Exeter Chiefs; lovely footballer and his creativity and attacking play are impressive.

Aki and Farrell have combined well in the past. I think back to that Welsh test match in 2018. Farrell providing a man of the match performance but helped by Aki whose hard running lines and decoy running impressive. The two players complement each other so well; both physically imposing in defensive duties but provide a nice contrast in attacking play.

Can Ireland get front foot ball to really test Lawrence defensively? I am optimistic for Ireland in this area of the park but will Ireland be able to secure the ball required to bring this three quarter unit into play?

Verdict:

This looks like a daunting task for Ireland. England at Twickenham under Eddie Jones will be up for this test match. They will look to smash Ireland back early.

There are areas for Ireland to exploit but I fear on the lineout, the breakdown battle is intriguing but England with Curry and Underhill for me are key players as I think Jones has the back row unit balance spot on.

The Ireland back three unit lack of game time together could be another factor. The hope is that Ireland provide a different look here that unsettles England but I think the hosts win still by seven to ten points.