One of the fascinations of the forthcoming match between England and Ireland at Twickenham will be to see how Joe Schmidt and his coaches go about attacking England. One of the features of the new Irish regime has been their brilliance in not just identifying areas of weakness in the opposition defence, but finding ways to exploit it.
Against the All Blacks the Irish were brave and almost cheeky from their own half. Poor execution meant that the plan did not always work, but that didn’t make it wrong. Ireland’s analysts had noted how far the All Blacks back three drop and how keen the inside backs are to get back on their shoulder. It means New Zealand are often lethal when running the ball back, but they are defensively vulnerable to a team prepared to have a go from their own 22.
On several occasions Ireland tried to run from deep. The intention was good, but poor passing meant that New Zealand’s sparse defence was able to cover.
Further up the pitch Ireland had identified how poorly New Zealand sometimes defend close to the ruck and maul. Turnover ball is gold for the All Blacks and so they stack up in midfield and wider, where they have a chance of profit. They sacrifice numbers close to the breakdown.
On several occasions Ireland were able to pick and go at the ruck or maul, almost unopposed. Having made the initial breach, they also popped the ball up to men running off the shoulder, almost without looking, confident that New Zealand would be short on numbers and they would have ample support.
There was also some dodgy stuff, but maybe imitation if the sincerest form of flattery. The Crusaders and New Zealand have been expert at taking out men ahead of the ruck and maul. Ireland also posted guards and ran interference. That’s still coached cheating in my book, and the officials need to get better at picking it up.
Ireland attacked Wales in different areas. They went after their lineout, they ran rolling mauls and they launched the first receiver down the channels at Wales’s tight forwards. They picked out Wales’s front five as a major defensive weakness and they bashed away at them.
They also used a relentless kicking game of a sort that they wouldn’t have dared try against New Zealand.
Against England you would expect Ireland to drive off the lineout because that is an area of strength for them. England will surely defend it better than Wales did, but Ireland will pull in the back row.
They may well also go with a kicking game again. France found a lot of space in behind England’s line. England pressure the gain line, but they do not sweep very well behind it. Ireland put in a couple of grubbers behind New Zealand’s wings in the Autumn and they are likely to go after England’s in a similar vein. Ireland’s chase game is very good and England will have worked hard with the positioning of their rookie wings in the week.
The positive for England is that Ireland have not scored a try against them in nearly three hours of football. They have also won the previous two matches against them. But that was against the old regime whose analytical acumen was not always the sharpest.
This Ireland side is much, much smarter. Two years ago England demolished Ireland’s scrummage at Twickenham. No one expects that to happen again. It should be a fascinating battle of wits.
We’d really like to hear your thoughts on where this match might be won and lost. Comments below…