Owen Farrell back in as England attempt to stop Ireland Rugby Grand Slam

England attempt to stop Ireland Rugby Grand Slam

Steve Borthwick has made four changes to his line-up as he takes his battered and bruised team to face the Ireland Grand Slam assault. Injuries to Ollie Chessum and Ollie Lawrence mean recalls for Dave Ribbans and Manu Tuilagi. As well, Henry Arundell is finally given his chance on the wing in place of Max Malins, yet the problem number ten jersey flipboard continues with Marcus Smith benched and replaced by Owen Farrell.

It is a mighty task that faces England on Saturday. As Ellis Genge said earlier in the week, “What an occasion. It would be amazing to be Irish and have England come over and have a Grand Slam opportunity when they have lost by 50 points on the weekend, on St Patrick’s Day. A day that is literally made for them.”

Charlie Inglefield assesses 5 key areas that England needs to fix if they are a chance of stopping Ireland’s Grand Slam.

Vs Irish Rugby ‘control the controllable’

Most English fans will be just content to see England rugby regain some pride on Saturday. France was so dominant last weekend. Even the most optimistic of English fans will settle for some fight and aggression rather than a win over Ireland. There are three areas that every England player can bring on Saturday. Aggression, intensity, and energy. There are no excuses in that regard and in particular, Ellis Genge needs to fire up his pack.

It has been well covered and discussed over the last seven days how lethargic England’s forwards were against a rampant French pack. It is perhaps why Borthwick has retained all but one of his starting forwards. There are players starting who will be fighting for their international careers. That should be motivation enough to see a more improved England performance. The first 2o minutes must belong to England if they are to have a chance of pulling off one of the greatest upsets in Six Nations history. The enforcers – Manu Tuilagi, Lewis Ludlam, Ellis Genge and Maro Itoje must get in the faces of their Irish counterparts.

Senior players must lead from the front

There is more than enough experience in that England team to deal with what will be a thunderous atmosphere inside the Aviva Stadium. Owen Farrell heads a list of eight starting players who have over 40 caps. Farrell has to lead from the front backed up by Maro Itoje and Jamie George in the forwards. They all have played in the big arenas around the world and in some of the biggest occasions in the modern game.

Henry Slade is perhaps fortunate to retain his place having had such a quiet tournament to date. The trio of him, Farrell and Tuilagi are reunited. England fans will want to see high involvement from them all, as this was horribly lacking by the England centres last week. Farrell is back at fly-half and he is the kind of character who will relish the occasion on Saturday.

Get the ball to Arundell and Watson

The tactics used by England under Borthwick’s management have been pragmatic to put it mildly. Playing a kick-chase game built on a solid set-piece and territory will not beat Ireland. England have to make use of the talent they have on the wings. Arundell and Anthony Watson are excitement machines if they have space to work in. It would be criminal to see them forlornly chasing box kicks all day long. Farrell and Slade have to bring Tuilagi into the game early to get quick ball and make the Irish defend.

Freddie Steward was the only English back against France who made an impression. Ireland have a lethal back three of Hugo Keenan, James Lowe and Mack Hansen. Arundell’s pace and Watson’s feet give England a potential point of difference in attack. What they need is the ball and not getting stiff necks chasing high balls.

Cut out the errors or it concedes an Ireland Rugby Grand Slam

The sight of Watson, a top quality winger drop the ball cold against France summed up where England’s confidence levels are currently at. Is it nerves, abiding to a strict game plan, tiredness – who knows? If England are any chance of stopping Ireland’s Grand Slam then it starts with the error count and discipline. Ireland are the best team in the world at making the opposition pay for their indiscretions. Showers are predicted in Dublin on Saturday afternoon which will not help England’s cause.

England have been guilty of making school boy errors in this tournament and Ireland will be all over them if that continues in Dublin. Reduce the errors, the penalties and get on the right side of the referee.

England need to use the occasion to their advantage

Last year, France barely got out of first gear and still managed to turn over England comfortably. Peel back the layers of that game and there were multiple errors by Les Bleus brought on by nerves of a potential first Grand Slam in 12 years. England despite being distinctly second best stayed in the fight for a lot of that game.

It doesn’t matter what team you are, chasing the hallowed turf of a major trophy will undoubtedly put some nerves on display. From an Ireland perspective, add in St. Patrick’s day, an expectant nation, plaudits from around the world and an outright favourites tag to boot. The point here is that if England can quieten the crowd, pray on Ireland’s understandable nerves, and then …….anything is possible.

Clutching at straws? Probably but that is the great thing about rugby and sport in general. Ultimately it is 15 against 15 and anything can happen. The reality based on how good Ireland have been over the last couple of years is that they are at least twenty points better than England. It is Ireland’s Grand Slam for the taking. 43-18 to Ireland.


Ireland v England –  March 18, Aviva Stadium, Dublin


“Main photo credit England Rugby Twitter page “