“Ireland are favourites for the game.” Eddie Jones, 7 March 2022.
When traveling Irish sports fans consider where they may go to cheer on their national heroes as the new year begins, March is always the first month that comes to mind. We can now get back on those planes and boats and head over the Irish Sea to places like Prestbury Park and Twickenham after a two-year forced exile. Whether you're rooting for Rachael Blackmore or Tadhg Furlong, seeing England take on Ireland in any sport is always a great occasion.
Ireland is still in this tournament, and with France due to face England on the final night, Ireland must put themselves in the best possible position to take advantage of a potential mishap by France. Ireland is likely to go back to their high-tempo, offloading-based game plan that worked so effectively against New Zealand in November. And if that happens, it will confirm to England that they were up against "the world's most cohesive side" (Jones, 2022).
We take a look at a number of areas that Ireland need to get right on Saturday.
1. Cut out the sloppiness at the breakdown
Ireland's breakdown conceded a number of turnovers and penalties against Italy, which was uncharacteristic. A major strength for Ireland appeared to have turned into a slight weakness. Ireland has conceded more penalties in attack than defence in the last two games, which is contrary to game research.
Ireland was sometimes a victim of their own success, as ball carriers were isolated from support, and outside support players needed to react quicker to the ball carrier's movements.
With Dombrandt topping the Six Nations turnover won charts (6), Ireland must be wary of the jackal threats of Itoje (5), Lawes and Curry, and revert to the ruthlessness that helped them defeat New Zealand.
Massive breakdown battle coming in #ENGvIRE - Ireland were sloppy (at times) v Italy - losing a few battles. Need to be more clinical against Dombrandt, Itoje , Curry - & Barbeary (if selected) #sixnations2022 pic.twitter.com/6eqsy3Eciw
— Brett Igoe (@brettruganalyst) March 8, 2022
2. Box clever in the lineout battle
With Ireland having already scored six tries from lineout attacks, this will be a vital battleground on Saturday. By giving Ireland space at the front, England will try to control where Ireland win the ball. Ireland will find it tough to move the ball wide as a result of this English lineout defence strategy.
England will offer the front unopposed, with the strategy that they can put pressure on the pass and wider attack.
Shorter lineouts (5 and 6 man) are more difficult for England to defend, especially if Ireland can move the English forwards around. This battle between Itoje and Ryan will be worth the entrance fee alone.
Huge Lineout battle coming #ENGvIRE #SixNations game. What will Ireland do - take the easy ball at the front/or move England around with shorter lineouts. Or will England show a different picture. pic.twitter.com/wHOuD553vW
— Brett Igoe (@brettruganalyst) March 8, 2022
They may even leave Ireland the space that Keith Earls coasted into in the 2021 game in Dublin.
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 20, 2021
3. Exploit the weaknesses in England’s defensive structure
In the professional game, rugby league defence coaches have dominated rugby union, but as they acclimatise to their new environment, it takes time for them to adjust to elements of the game that they are unfamiliar with. England's new defensive coach Anthony Seiboldis is no exception. England's defence post-scrum and their lineout set defence has looked disorganised in their last three games, which Scotland exploited in the first week of the Championship.
England's whole backrow and backline followed Scotland’s attack across the field after pulling them into the wide channel from a scrum, leaving the front row to defend the opposite side of the pitch. Finn Russell was quick to notice the mismatch and hit Darcy Graham with a great kick pass. It resulted in a penalty try for Scotland, as well as a yellow card, and was the turning point of the victory for Scotland.
A closer look at the Penalty try #SCOvENG Did Scotland find a system error in England's Defence with Russell's double cross-field kick. Thoughts on Defence Shape? Easy fix for England but too late! #SixNations2022 #SixNations #rugbyanalysis pic.twitter.com/Ai5d71s8gx
— Brett Igoe (@brettruganalyst) February 6, 2022
Ireland will need a lot to go well for fans to enjoy their pints in the Cabbage Patch before relocating to Cheltenham, but we certainly have the players to deal with what England has to offer. While Twickenham hasn't always been a joyful hunting ground for Irish supporters, Eddie Jones may be right this weekend: we are favourites, and we must embrace that reality and go out and play our highly skilled and fast paced game with confidence