Ireland’s two recently qualified New Zealanders, James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park, have made an immediate impact for Andy Farrell’s team leading into the England v Ireland fixture this weekend.
Add to that established midfielder Bundee Aki, and the ‘kiwi trio’ are a major threat to England’s perceived place in the Autumn Nations Cup tournament.
Not for a long time have fans seen Ireland play with pace off the ruck than they did against Wales last weekend. That was largely down to Gibson-Park’s bullet-like pass, and a keenness to keep the ball moving. The same could be said for the dynamism that Lowe injected into Ireland’s traditionally structured backline. They are both huge threats to Eddie Jones’ plans tomorrow afternoon; as is the inclusion of powerhouse centre, Aki.
With no home crowd to cheer on the hosts, England v Ireland has a great opportunity to stop the rot of three convincing defeats for the visitors to their arch enemies.
Gibson-Park can transform Ireland’s attack
It is of no surprise that Gibson-Park and Lowe have been put straight into the national set up by Farrell. They bring inherently different skill-sets to Ireland’s play and structure.
As good as Conor Murray has been for Ireland, Farrell will surely be looking at the future and Gibson-Park has made his statement. Murray’s strengths should not be completely ignored given how good he is at pinning defences back with his kicking and experience. But Gibson-Park showed in forty minutes how he can inject real pace into Ireland’s game.
Wales really struggled to contain and pressurise Gibson-Park and his passes out wide gave Ireland a split second more to get over the gain line. New Zealand always churns out excellent scrum-halves and Gibson-Park’s mischief was wonderfully refreshing to watch. The basics were pretty much spot on as well but it was his eye for a gap that caught the eye. Farrell may just have found the jewel in his vision for Ireland over the next few years. Early days of course.
Lowe’s pace and power will transform Ireland’s back-three
James Lowe was equally effective for Ireland last week. He has the usual Kiwi concoction of skills – pace, power and finishing ability. Ireland has had and still have their great wingers but Lowe offers something different. Hungry for work, which is always a good sign for a modern-day winger but it was his ability to create something out of nothing which set him apart.
Lowe had a major hand in Ireland’s first try through Quinn Roux by taking an inside ball and then offloading to Jonny Sexton. Throughout the match, Lowe constantly made ground in the tightest of spaces and then crashed through for Ireland’s second try. It wasn’t a screamer from 50 yards out but an old fashioned head down and pile through the bodies.
If Jacob Stockdale can rediscover his form then Ireland will have a hugely exciting back three. Like Gibson-Park, Lowe will face an altogether tougher test against England but the positive signs are there.
Bundee Aki comes back into the centres and he has enjoyed his time against England. He caused carnage amongst England’s shattered defence when Ireland won the Grand Slam in 2018. When a hopelessly undercooked Ireland was thrashed in the pre-World Cup warm-up last August, Aki was comfortably Ireland’s best player.
This Kiwi-born trio offers a major threat to England’s defence tomorrow afternoon.
Eddie Jones continues to shut out public opinion
Eddie Jones still loves to shut out public opinion on selections and who can blame him, because he has normally got it right. Jack Willis despite an impressive debut last week is binned and Ollie Thorley is still not trusted enough to make his first start. But, Jones is loyal, understandably so to his favourites and they will need to perform at their best against Ireland.
Billy Vunipola was better against Georgia but the critics won’t go away. Jonny May has more than enough credit in the bank to keep his place after quiet displays against Italy and Georgia. Owen Farrell has another opportunity to keep his best mate, George Ford out of the starting line-up. These three need big games tomorrow to keep the critics at bay.
One of the questions is whether fans will see more flair from the hosts in this England v Ireland match-up? And while the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality, Jones clearly sees England’s set-piece dominance as the way forward. It will work fine against the likes of Italy and Georgia but against the better teams, surely he needs more?
Sir Clive Woodward recently said that England sometime over the next 12-18 months will find themselves in a situation where they have to score a try in the last ten minutes to win a game. England unquestionably has players who can provide that spark of genius both starting or off the bench. The pressure is on Owen Farrell to maintain the usual kicking strategy that spark England’s backline at the opportune moment. Against Ireland this weekend, ‘Faz’ will need to be at his best to counter the kiwi trio and a motivated Irish side.
England ‘kamikaze twins’ to pressurize Ireland’s half-backs
For all of the excitement around Jamison Gibson-Park, he has started just once for Ireland. Ross Byrne, Ireland’s starting fly-half on Saturday has played eight times. Tom Curry and Sam Underhill at there best are mayhem and chaos for opposing half-backs. Maro Itoje is another one who loves nothing better than scragging a scrum-half and slowing the ball down. If England can disrupt and stall Gibson-Park’s service then they can also come hard at Ross Byrne. England is probably the best team in the world at pressuring and suffocating the opposition – it is not pretty but it is effective.
It will be a fascinating clash between the coaches. Farrell is the coming man and Jones has seen first hand the strengths of Ireland’s coach. Jones has his path and he will not veer away from it, for anybody. Ireland will not have Sexton of Murray starting on Saturday but they do have some Kiwi magic in their side. If Gibson-Park and Lowe can again show their spark then Ireland could take this match.
England v Ireland – Saturday, November 21. Twickenham
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