Dual blogged on Irish News Review
Here we are again for the third consecutive year;Ireland face off against England for what looks to be the deciding game of the tournament (so far, of course). The last two years it hasn’t gone that well for Ireland, can anything make this year any different?
It is always a foolish notion to consider one single game to be a decider when it isn’t on the final weekend. Regardless of who wins this weekend (or if there’s a draw for that matter) there are still two more games for each team to play. England will go on to face a French side with reason to play a big game as well as the Scots who are a little scary when they’re cohesive. Ireland face the Scots too and a Welsh side who could be seriously smarting if things don’t go their way against France. Wales are nearly more daunting when the championship is not at stake for them.
But with Ireland and England the two unbeaten sides in this year’s tournament mid-term period we can’t help but see this as a head to head for the title. England come in to this game on the back of fine form, at least in the attacking sense. They will be less than thrilled that they have conceded four tries so far in this tournament, three against Italy who Ireland kept locked out. The injury to Owen Farrell has served as a harsh twist of faith to their opponents too as George Ford has put a different and better spin on their game. Maybe he is a better out half or maybe he is just listening to the older heads in the team that bit more, who knows.
Ireland on the other hand are taking things game by game more than ever this year and are producing some naysayers along the way. With the tinfoil hat firmly on what I will say is this – couldn’t Ireland possibly be targeting England? Those in the know, namely former players and coaches, will tell you that no coach is ever willing to “throw” a game and of course with two wins Schmidt hasn’t done that exactly. But look at the record – if we assume New Zealand were the target all along weren’t Australia just the warm up to get one more game to gel? I refer of course to 2013 when Ireland looked fresh against Samoa then fell flat against Australia. In hindsight of how well we did against New Zealand it seemed inexplicable, how did Ireland fall so spectacularly short of the mark against inferior opposition to what came the following week?
The players claimed that the intensity wasn’t right and that they were just off the mark but conspiracy theorists can theorise that Ireland had New Zealand targeted and were willing to sacrifice Australia if they could use that game to figure out what was working. The Six Nations is different of course, you can’t afford to lose lest you find yourself chasing the points. But humour me if you will, have Ireland been holding back? With an injury list totalling sixteen at one stage most believed that Ireland were just hanging on and dealing with a deluge of fresh faces but look back on the set plays. Little of what we saw from the set piece with Ireland in the last two games was focused on scoring tries. Making yards sure but aside from two or three moments against Italy and that one lost chance against France, Ireland haven’t threatened try lines all that much. It simply cannot be for any other reason than Schmidt doesn’t want them to, or at least he felt they didn’t need to in the two games so far. Against France in particular the plan was relatively straightforward – reverse the restart, let Tommy Bowe claim or force the penalty, keep the scoreboard ticking over.
The Pont of all of this is that nobody should be considering Ireland inferior to England simply because of the Greater attacking threat England have shown thus far. Firstly, you can win games through defence, as ugly as it can be. Given that England have won the last four encounters with Ireland you would have to say that Ireland will take a win of any form. Player watch now incorporates the crucial news that Mike Brown will miss this Sunday’s showdown and his absence will be felt greatly by England and used massively by Ireland given it was himself and Danny Care caused the most damage against them last year. For Ireland, the team should remain much the same with Jordi Murphy swapping in for Jamie Heaslip and Tommy O’Donnell coming onto the bench assuming he is passed fit. Could Keith Earls or Luke Fitzgerald oust Felix Jones from the bench? Maybe but you would think the bench won’t get much of a show this weekend aside from the forwards. Whatever 23 lineup on both sides, the result of this one could sway the whole competition. England have the recent history, Ireland have the home advantage. England have the strike runners, Ireland have the berzerker back row. Can we not just say a draw and leave it at that? No? Fine.
Image courtesy of sportsworld.co.uk