Despite this titanic 6 Nations clash being at Twickenham, the general consensus around the rugby world is that Ireland will leave London still on course for a grand slam. Afterall, Ireland not only oozed class in the big win against Scotland, but also thumped the defending champions Wales 26-3. A contest is anticipated, but England will not leave the home changing rooms as favourites. All is not hopeless for the Red Rose though. With a fierce pack, and new crop of exciting backs, a correct game plan can get England the victory. Here are the changes England need to make in order to slay a formidable Irish side.
Change the bench
England fans seem to be thrilled overall with the new selection policy of backing the youngsters, but criticism is spreading over Lancaster’s bench; and rightly so. The biggest worry is the absence of a genuine back-up fly-half. If Owen Farrell disastrously picks up an injury in the early minutes, Twelvetrees or Goode will have to cover 10. Both have not impressed at club level in that position, let alone international level. Another issue is Tom Youngs on the bench. Sadly, the British and Irish Lion is not hitting the target in the lineouts. Perhaps against other teams this would not matter so much, but against an Ireland pack who have wise heads in the lineout, weak throws will be pounced on. The bench needs to be re-evaluated; Webber for Youngs, Ford for Barritt, and a more explosive back (such as Anthony Watson) for Goode.
The Irish defence was unbelievably solid in their triumph over Wales. The men in Green showed big carries alone will not break that tenacious line. Even the likes of Jamie Roberts and George North failed to evade the Irish wolf-pack. This shows that no matter how good the ball carriers England throw at Ireland are, it will take more than straight carries to beat the Irish. England need to be sure they offload frequently to find gaps in a formidable Irish defensive line.
Stop the big ball carriers
Wales are renowned for having a solid wall in defence, but the big Irish ball carriers knocked it down brick by brick. The likes of Cian Healy, Chris Henry, and more scrapped to gain precious yards, which made the perfect foundation for the talented backline to flourish. Fortunately, Chris Robshaw leads a forward pack who will graft for one another, and as a unit could shut out the Irish ball carriers better than the Welsh did. The big hitters in the English pack (such as Tom Wood, Courtney Lawes, and Joe Launchbury) will not be fearful of the Irish ball carriers, but with the sheer class of the Irish with ball in hand, England will need the Lancaster team spirit more than ever.
Wider defensive line
This has to be one of the key issues in the current England game plan. Too often, the defence line is excessively narrow, and lacks sufficient numbers in defence out wide. Teams have been able to exploit this frequently against England; it was part of the reason New Zealand scored their first two tries in the November internationals, and more recently, it gave Fikou the opportunity to score his match winning try for France just over two weeks ago. England tend to be this narrow as they commit heavily to the breakdown, which in fairness does often reward them with turnovers. However, they need to master the balance between fighting at the ruck, and having numbers in the defensive line. If they do not, the experienced centres of D’Arcy and O’Driscoll will spot the gaps out wide and create scoring opportunities, as they have done for years.
Bring Yarde in
Exciting news was announced shortly after Round 2 of this 6nations; Marland Yarde is returning to fitness. The explosive England scorer looked as though he would be side-lined for the whole tournament, but he is now in contention to return at Twickenham against Ireland. But with Nowell and May impressing in their new England jerseys, Lancaster has a selection headache on his hands. Yarde could be the game-breaker. Nowell and May are try scorers, no doubt about it, but Yarde’s skill of tracking the ball (similar to Ashton, when he was in form) could be the unpredictable surprise that could unlock that solid Irish defence. It will be tough dropping Nowell or May, but Yarde’s unique talent should not be ignored, so if fit he should start.
There is no denying that a daunting prospect awaits England in tournament pace-setters Ireland, but by tweaking a small few details, the Red Rose has a fair chance of claiming a much needed home win.