Ireland need to be accurate and assertive against dominant England at Twickenham

David Cooper - Writer 17:48 19/11/2020
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  • The only way to stand up to a fearless opposition is to put pressure on them. Bully them. Take the fight to them. Be more clinical with the ball in hand. Tighter in defence. Stay focused for 80 minutes.

    It may appear to be an arduous task, but Ireland need to be accurate and assertive when they face England on Saturday, having leaked over 100 points in the last three matches against their rivals.

    In two of the last three fixtures, England’s physicality came to the fore as they bullied Ireland all over the pitch, controlling the collisions and breakdown.

    The Men in Green’s attack struggled to cope with England’s line speed and this is something that cannot be repeated again at Twickenham.

    Even with new faces promoted to the team, Ireland cannot afford to be mentality fragile. Ronan Kelleher, Caelan Doris, Will Connors, Hugo Keenan, Jamison Gibson-Park and James Lowe have all been capped this year, players that represent hope plus ambition ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

    Mixing new blood with ageing stars is important. Keith Earls is 32. Peter O’Mahony 31. Cian Healy 33. Conor Murray 31. Jonny Sexton 35. Most of these seasoned campaigners may not be around come rugby’s global showpiece in three years’ time.

    These men have done a lot for Irish rugby over the years but there are no guarantees in professional sport, especially with the level of talent flooding through the international ranks.

    The young players introduced by either Joe Schmidt or Andy Farrell are hungry and have tasted success before. They know the importance of a game like this. Know what it would mean to win. Four of this team – Jacob Stockdale, Andrew Porter, Keenan and Ryan – lost an U20 World Cup final to England four years ago.

    While winning on this occasion might seem like a Herculean task, given England’s dominance at present, it would no doubt inspire a young side in Farrell’s first year at the helm.

    One of the key areas of focus needs to be at line-out time. It is a weakness, one that requires attention, with pressure on Kelleher’s throw. If the line-out creaks then Maro Itoje and Joe Launchbury will have a field day.

    Kelleher’s throwing had the odd shake against Wales, but the 22-year-old, on his fourth appearance, was exciting with hard carries and a solid tackling ability. With no place to hide at Twickenham, he looks ready.

    With talisman Sexton missing the fixture due to a hamstring injury, lock James Ryan will fill the captaincy void.

    Ryan has been among Ireland’s most consistent players since making his debut in 2017. Such is his natural-born leadership, his appointment as skipper was always a case of when, not if.

    Progress has, of course, been slow in 2020 with the pause in season making it difficult to gather any form of momentum. Three games in February were offset by an eight-month break, before playing three matches over the last four weeks.

    However, if there are any positives to be drawn besides the recent victory over Wales, it is the performances of Doris, a man built for the big stage. The Leinster No8 was named man-of-the-match last week at the Aviva Stadium, hitting rucks and carrying hard. It is hard to believe he is still only 22, yet offers so much class on both sides of the ball.

    Behind the pack, Ross Byrne has earned the right to start at out-half and brings a defensive solidity to a powerful looking Ireland back-line. Earls is named on the wing, while Chris Farrell comes into the midfield for an injured Robbie Henshaw.

    Byrne is clearly the next best option to Sexton. Although his performance in the 57-15 defeat to England last August lacked control, it would have been difficult for any out-half to shine when their pack was getting dominated for 80 minutes. Opportunities and patience over the next 12 months can further develop his game.

    For Ireland to compete, they need to concentrate on what they do best: the simple things well, control their set-piece and offer a threat in defence. They need to be nasty too. In turn, they must curtail England’s electric attacking line speed and peerless defensive qualities.

    Pouring everything into the Twickenham fixture and seeking to atone recent defeats would secure Ireland a home Autumn Nations Cup final.

    However, given England have moved up to second in the world rankings, they look destined to have the edge on Farrell’s men once again.

    A team with little weakness, Eddie Jones’ outfit look polished when their attitude and game plan is accurate. And having beaten Ireland in their last three meetings, expect them to up their performance this weekend.