Spoiling a St Patrick’s Day Grand Slam weekend in Dublin by toppling the world’s top-ranked side with a 50-point home win is an extremely unlikely mission for Steve Borthwick’s side. If they want to come at all close and positively sign these Six Nations, they need to check those boxes.
Start strong and stay in the fight
England got off to a disastrous start against France last weekend. Terribly confused on their very first jerk of the game, they coughed up a turnover after a carry from Freddie Steward before Jack van Poortvliet counterattacked with an over-hit box kick. It speaks volumes to the chaos that France could have even scored twice before tearing the hosts apart in the second minute. After trailing 10-0, England had to watch the game in wet conditions. France didn’t need to push the pace at all, especially as they would have been confident that England would slack off towards the end of each half. You could sit back, crash into the glitch and build up a score.
Ireland will try to calm any nerves by starting as determinedly as they did against Wales in round one, when they lit the swelling balloon of optimism about Warren Gatland’s return. England don’t necessarily need one of the leading attempts that became their trademark under Eddie Jones. You just have to avoid casual mistakes and stay assertive; something they couldn’t pull off against France. Stay in the running long enough and while Ireland are a composed and cohesive team they could cause some nervousness given the magnitude of the event.
Own the close exchange
Ryan Baird, who replaced the injured Iain Henderson at Lock, is a phenomenal talent. His dynamism will add to Ireland’s multi-faceted phasing game as the 23-year-old is a truly great athlete. However, with David Ribbans coming into the back line for Ollie Chessum to combine with Maro Itoje back line, England should assess their chances of flexing their muscles in the Mauling exchange. Tadhg Beirne, a long-legged threat to Ireland in that regard, has also been absent since round two.
A year ago, on the back of an early red card for Charlie Ewels, Itoje was immense as England enjoyed set-piece dominance so much that the sides were level at 15-15 with fifteen minutes to go. That day, Ireland fielded a tight five from Cian Healy, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Beirne and James Ryan. England had Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Itoje and Ewels; their lineup for this weekend with Ribbans in for Ewels. Andrew Porter, who enjoyed a fine loosehead prop championship, and Baird are the two new faces for Ireland. However, there are many crossovers. England are expected to do everything in their power to convince Jaco Peyper, the South African referee, that they are both legal and stronger.
Compete on their own terms
It goes without saying that England must put up a phenomenal defensive effort that is far safer and more accurate. They have conceded 14 tries in four games so far in this tournament and have only looked consistently solid in Cardiff. Your payline and collapse decisions must be sharp over long stretches of play as Ireland’s attack is intricate, skillful and patient. Getting too committed to jerks to stealing possession could prove costly, though chief scavenger Jack Willis should be given license to spoil and slow down. Lightning fast speed is how Ireland really hurt teams. Also watch out for a lineout trick play by the hosts. These have historically stung England.
All of this involves discipline and kick fighting. Simply put, England cannot allow Ireland to start from a dangerous field position too often. Although against a far less powerful offensive side, Borthwick’s playmakers controlled territory well at Principality Stadium and kept letting pursuers influence the game. That pillar crumbled a fortnight later as France applied pressure, in the breakdown and in the tackle, ensuring their rivals kicked the back foot. The difficulty, as always, is that Ireland are such a well-rounded team. Outdoing a back three of Hugo Keenan, James Lowe and Mack Hansen won’t be easy. That means England also need to take chances to run.
Let Sexton tackle and take risks
There’s little point in picking a player like Henry Arundell and then asking him to commute all afternoon after high balls. even if the weather forecast predicts a soggy Saturday. To triumph in Dublin – or even remotely get Ireland into trouble – England will have to capitalize on almost every opportunity they get. Owen Farrell can’t be wasteful off the tee either.
Sending Manu Tuilagi into Johnny Sexton’s channel isn’t the most imaginative tactic in the world but it should at least give England a push. It’s certainly preferable to face the imposing center partnership of Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw. At the very least, England must start several runners in the Irish fly-half in the same way they isolated Owen Williams from Wales. This strategy helped make two attempts.