Ireland can do it - if they dominate the Corridor of Power
RUGBY ANALYST:But any slacking, and mentally-strong England will gain the revenge they have quietly craved
IN international rugby, there are days that determine your future and define your legacy. For Declan Kidney, Sunday is such a day.
If Ireland can defeat England, the frustrating inconsistency of the last three seasons will be forgotten. If the great enemy is put to the sword, the Irish will forgive Declan and his team anything.
Failure would trigger massive pressure on Declan. It unfair this one match could determine Ireland’s most successful coach’s future.
Last week’s remarkable Italian victory has opened the unlikely possibility of a Grand Slam for both England and Ireland. The team that is victorious at the Aviva will have momentum, confidence and France at home.
Make no mistake, the transformation in this English team, from the rabble who stumbled in the fog in Rome last season to the team that demolished Scotland, is dramatic. Rome last season was the worst performance from an England side I have witnessed.
Today, England are capable of defeating any opposition. Everyone in the organisation deserves to be congratulated. Especially Stuart Lancaster.
Lancaster has another weapon in his arsenal. At Lansdowne Road two years ago the English XV were humiliated. That experience inflicted a wound deep in the English psyche. The only way to heal pain of that intensity is to gain revenge.
It is a base emotion, yet one of the most powerful of motivators known to man. Even though Ireland themselves were belted last St Patrick’s Day at Twickenham, I can promise you, desire for revenge sits deep in English hearts.
The Ireland match plan to defeat England is to give them exactly what they don’t want.
England want a set-piece battle; at lineout and scrum time they want “a dockyard brawl”. Mike Ross, Cian Healy and Rory Best must demand more effort from the five behind them. Mike McCarthy must continue his dedication to Ross in the scrum, long after engagement.
England want to cross the gain line with their big ball-carriers. Twelvetrees, Barritt, Wood and Tuilagi, off the bench, must be gang-tackled behind the gain line. Ireland need to dominate “The Corridor of Power,” between the teams. This is the terrain where success or failure lie.
D’Arcy and O’Driscoll will be out-muscled in every department, except heart and passion. I expect these two magic old warriors to do what they have done for more than a decade: tackle everything that comes into their zone and then place their bodies in positions of danger and fight for every ball.
At times Peter O’Mahony and Seán O’Brien confusingly swapped openside roles last week. One of them must reach the first tackle before the impressive Robshaw and slow down England’s recycled ball. The lack of a genuine openside may prove costly for Ireland.
England want to set the pace of the game: so, Ireland must attack them at a lightning-fast tempo, much faster than anything the English club game can produce. Take them so far out of their comfort zone, that the English players are reduced to frustrated spectators.
Quick taps, fast ruck ball, movement and aggressive cross-field kicks for the wingers. This takes the pace out of the English defensive line.
Two years ago, England’s arrogance was a major factor in their downfall. Having T-shirts printed before the match with “Grand Slam Champions,” splashed across them, was breathtakingly stupid.
To the Irish, it was like waving a blood-stained tricolour before them. What reaction did the English expect after offering such an insult?
That day England mentally crumbled under the weight of their own over-confidence and arrogance.
Lancaster’s team have not made the same mistake. They have spoken quietly, they are watchful and they have revenge in their hearts. The English mindset is for battle and your mindset determines your performance. The arrogant smirks have been replaced by steely glares. The greatest worry for the English is, which Irish team will turn up? Last week’s first-half champions or the second-half “duffers”?
Ireland can win, but it will only be delivered by the highest quality, 80-minute performance this team is capable of producing. Any inconsistency or slacking in concentration, which has been a trademark of the past 36 months, and Ireland will suffer a ruthless defeat.
Any Irish defeat will be delivered at the hands of a vastly-improved and spiritually tough England. Gone is the petulance. They mean to do “the business”.
Tomorrow there won’t be a “Grand Slam Champions” T-shirt in sight, but whoever wins has a very good chance of getting one in a few weeks.