Eddie Jones and the England rugby team goes into two hugely important games over the next two weekends.
Ireland are up first, crucially for England at ‘fortress Twickenham’. England then finishes their tournament in the cauldron of Paris against a resurgent French team. After the first three rounds, many have no idea where England’s rugby team is truly at. The same could not be said for Ireland. They are purring very nicely under Andy Farrell and will be launching multiple threats against a vulnerable England outfit.
For all of the positive talk by Jones post an unconvincing win over Wales there are major concerns over whether this England rugby team is capable of toppling the rapidly changing rugby world order. It will also tell us where England are with the 2023 Rugby World Cup just around the corner.
Multi-faceted Ireland first up for England rugby team
Ireland have pushed their game forward from an encouraging autumn that culminated in that imperious win over the All Blacks. They contain multiple threats across the park and can also play different game plans to suit the occasion. Ireland has an enticing blend of world-class Leinster talent and granite-like experience in the form of Peter O’Mahony and Johnny Sexton. The influence of Jamie Gibson-Park grows with every match and he has become a key figure in dictating the pace of Ireland’s attacking structure. This Ireland squad has very few chinks in its armoury. Not good news for the England rugby team.
The alarm bells should be ringing in the England camp because Ireland is going to be far more physical than what England’s rugby team has played thus far in the 2022 Six Nations. The pace that Gibson-Park whips the ball out gives Ireland options outwide – something that the promising Harry Randall needs to learn from. More of that in a moment. The outstanding Josh Van Der Flier leads an all-action Ireland back row that will undoubtedly test the defensive shoulders of Marcus Smith. Ireland looks confident, quick and on a mission to succeed. The game plan is seemingly clear and the players are all on the same page.
So, do England have a chance?
England rugby team rely on ‘fortress Twickenham’
Yes, they do. Because England are at Twickenham for starters and despite being below par against Wales they still managed to struggle through. Home comforts played a big part in getting England past a fast-finishing Wales. The only blip is Alex Dombrandt missing thanks to a bout of Covid. However for Sam Simmonds it is another wonderful opportunity to show that he can deliver at international level. England still look a long way from achieving that potential right now but the players are in place to make it happen. As Sir Ian McGeechan said in his piece for the Sunday Telegraph last week, England’s rugby team must trust in the process.
On paper, Ireland really should get the job done against England on Saturday. But, no matter how strong Ireland are they are playing England at Twickenham. The Twickenham factor cannot be underestimated. Yes, England lack cohesion, yes their attack is worryingly inept but they tend to win at Twickenham and against the very best in the world. England really should be three from three in this tournament. As well as Scotland hung on and then took advantage of Jones’s and England respective brain explosions at Murrayfield – England should have comfortably won that Calcutta Cup clash. Eddie Jones’ men have dominated possession and territory in all three of their games. Admittedly they did little with either but if England’s attack does click then Ireland will be in trouble. What England’s rugby team really need for Ireland and also France is for their senior players to step up.
Slade, Curry, and Lawes must lead the way
Henry Slade hasn’t quite got it together in this year’s Six Nations. We know how good he is. At his best, he is a sumptuous rugby player capable of scything through the tightest of defences or putting his teammates through with consummate ease. What makes Slade’s form frustrating was the upturn of his performances in the autumn. Against South Africa, the World Champions he was magnificent in both defence and attack. How England would love him to be something similar over the next two weekends.
Slade has to find a way of being effective without the security of Manu Tuilagi beside him. He is a senior player now and Saturday against Ireland is the perfect opportunity for him to get England’s faltering attack back in order.
The same could be said for England’s other senior players. For all of the promise and talent of Marcus Smith and Harry Randall, they need the experienced heads to help guide them around. That means names like Tom Curry, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler [et all] to step up and deliver. If they play well, that will allow the likes of Smith and Randall to have a yard or two of space more to work in – both mentally as well as playing what is in front of them.
Get the basics in order and the rest will follow
Jones wants his England rugby team to play with pace but the basics have to be better from what we have seen in this tournament for that game plan to be implemented. England’s scrum and lineout creaked against Wales and it meant that Wales always felt like they were in the game. Ireland will be more powerful in the set-piece and they will be destructive at the breakdown. Jamie George must ensure that England wins their line-outs and Kyle Sinckler has to keep sturdy in the scrums.
Eddie Jones has kept faith with the majority of the team who started against Wales. Dombrandt and Luke Cowan-Dickie miss out through Covid and injury. In the problem centre position beside Henry Slade, Joe Marchant has another chance to prove his credentials as a long term option. Slade and Marchant will be up against the muscular duo of Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose – no easy task.
The pressure on Eddie Jones is increasing. It is the price he pays for being the head coach of the world’s richest rugby nation. Ireland and France are significantly ahead of this England rugby team at the moment, so the task facing his team over the next two weeks is a supremely tough one. There have been positive words coming out of the England camp since the Welsh win, however, the reality is that England is worryingly ‘out of kilter’ even despite the injuries that have hit them.
Ireland will not allow England to muddle their way through [as easily as Wales did]. Jones must get his team up for this tactically and physically otherwise Ireland will run away as comfortable winners.
Guinness Six Nations Round 4 – England v Ireland; Saturday, March 12. Twickenham
Note: the England matchday squad is released on Thursday, March 10. Comment below or on our Facebook or Twitter pages, on how this England rugby team will proceed against Ireland first, and France to follow next weekend.
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