They’re going after us in the lineout jungle
And how Ireland respond will have a huge bearing on contest and result
The Queensbury Rules are to boxing as “Crouch-Bind-Set” are to scrummaging. A violent hit is controlled by gentleman’s rules. The lineout is the jungle that is judo, where competitors bow before a contest and certain behaviour is a given; no foul language or bodily gestures; but after that . . .
England will pore over every aspect and try to predict styles and plays in order to counteract. Hence tomorrow’s lineout maul will be a fascinating battle in the jungle. What can the English do? Most obviously they will try to restrict the Irish lineout visits in their own 22.
An obvious goal in all games but especially so tomorrow, mentally, in order to rouse the English crowd while neutralising an Irish advantage.
Now I know the English under Stuart Lancaster are much more humble, which is to be commended. But, let’s be very honest, when it comes to the scrum and especially the Irish lineout maul, the English will not be humble.
This is a judo contest of mentality which the English front five will relish. All week they will be creating mental imagery for what must be done as Rory Best releases the ball towards his target.
They will be salivating at the prospect of stopping the Irish maul dead in a violent, technical and thorough demolition, not just physically but mentally. As Johnny Sexton finds the English corner from a penalty the English pack will be thinking ‘Now’s our chance to stuff the Irish’. Five metres from home is no place to be humble: to the winner, the mental spoils.
The success of the Irish maul thus far has been down to a number of factors. Helpfully, the opposition were at varying degrees of competence. England’s pack, tutored by former Leicester prop Graham Rowntree, will not be.
Ireland have multiple targets, most notably Devin Toner, and accurate delivery from touch via Best and Seán Cronin. England’s blindside Tom Wood and especially secondrow Courtney Lawes get into the air quickly and will place huge pressure on Paul O’Connell’s selection of target.
That’s fine outfield as England can go into the air with minimum risk but much more dangerous five metres from their home: do they contest in the air thereby destabilising their maul defence, or do they stay on the ground conceding possession but laying in wait to thwart the Irish maul? Both will be employed as will the “stay down” till the last second before getting into the air.
The Irish pack has also the perfect height and variant of athlete to fill the required roles; the obvious being the power of Jamie Heaslip, who has the athleticism to adjust to the shifting point of target. This shift is key as it gains vital seconds for Ireland to set up the drive; correct height and momentum while England will be adjusting to the target.
The first tactic will be for England to starve Ireland of aerial space. Watch Lawes looking to collide midair. Destabilising Ireland in the air sets off a chain of events, risking the maul set-up.
The Irish lifters are not just getting the jumper in the air, they are providing a temporary foundation to ensure he lands where he should (and his core must be teak tough).
Those two lifters must also weather the storm while the ball is transferred, especially the man behind as he carries much more weight.
Next England, will have a nominated “sacker”. This role is bordering on suicidal; as soon as the Irish receiver hits the deck, the sacker will place his feet across the Irish line and literally pull the ball carrier down, ball and all. The trick is for the Irish transfer to have occurred and the ball be safely placed at the rear.
I fancy a more technical approach: attacking the holy trinity of lifter, jumper and lifter in unison; the rear lifter targeted by England from an angle and pushed back into the Irish side towards the touchline in a clockwise motion. The front lifter is pulled into English territory, away from the touchline, continuing the clockwise motion. Where the three started perpendicular to the touchline they will be now parallel and in a very isolated and vulnerable place.
As for the scrum: two years ago Mike Ross came off injured on 36 minutes with Tom Court stepping into the breach; the score was 9-3. A loosehead playing at tighthead understandably explains the subsequent scrum problems but doesn’t explain why a slick passing backline became inept with a rising error count.
Two props occupy the bench now; with new scrummage laws and a fresh broom the backline is bound to perform but what if the lineout maul doesn’t gain the advantage of previous weeks? Will negativity enter the Irish psyche (player and crowd) away from home?
A weakness in England’s game has been their inability to maximise turnover ball but considering their back three this should improve. In contrast a dishevelled France were immediately turned on by their turnovers. Saracens, with Charlie Hodgson at 10, get maximum return on turnovers but when Owen Farrell is there, less so. England’s half-back pairing are intriguing but I’d take ours!
PS. See you this evening in Harlequins, The Stoop at 7:45 http://www.englandirelandlegends.com/