In a game of margins there's no margin of error for Ireland
In a game of margins Scotland were brutal and England brilliant. Scotland had 11 lineouts to England’s 13; both losing two. Scrums were similar and tackle rates were exactly the same, on 86 per cent, yet England hammered Scotland. Margins.
On the Scottish 11 lineouts, hooker Dougie Hall targeted the tail three times, a launch pad for Tim Visser and Stuart Hogg out wide. Hogg’s running can make serious hay. Curiously, with monster targets, especially Richie Gray, Hall hit openside Kelly Brown. Each time, English blindside wing forward Tom Wood climbed brilliantly to run interference.
The first time, Wood simply grabbed Brown’s inside arm for a fraction and the ball spilled forward. The second time Wood flailed his inside hand right in front of Brown’s face and the ball spilled, and finally, Wood grabbed Brown’s arm again and the ball spilled on his own side.
Neither Visser nor Hogg got the ball; did the Scots know why? Surely, Brown, the captain and the target did?
I followed Brown for the next few phases to observe his reaction and inexplicably, he accepted his fate. I can’t imagine Peter O’Mahony or Seán O’Brien allowing Wood three chances to ruin an Irish lineout and Simon Zebo’s chance to shine! Margins.
Because of these margins a talented Scotland are awful. Conversely, England not yet a great rugby team, beat the Scots easily and the All Blacks convincingly; margins.
The most important thing to have in the Aviva on Sunday is a stopwatch. Count the time England’s recycle takes and if it is consistently below five seconds, Ireland will lose. If it is above five seconds, Ireland have a great chance to win. Is it that simple? I think so, but enormous thought, tactics and teamwork will have to come out of Ireland to make it so.
Beyond margins, Brian O’Driscolls magic won man of the match in Cardiff, while Owen Farrell’s methodology won it in London. England are a basic, low error team, epitomised by captain Chris Robshaw, who works exceptionally hard, running lines, making his tackles.
Their system is built on excellence and pace, not experiment. Pace at the breakdown is crucial to get their lines and phases going and into it they bring monsters such as Manu Tuilagi; those five seconds become crucial to his attack and our defence.
Inside Tuilagi, Billy Twelvetrees (selection dependent) is the only English player who looks like a classic French back. He carries in both hands, accelerates through gaps the English multiphase open up; especially dangerous with Chris Ashton loitering off blindside wing.