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Gordon D’Arcy: Ireland must be smarter as they stand up to England’s bullies

James Ryan’s captaincy faces a baptism of fire - his side must box clever in London

The only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them. Frustrate them. Take away their main weapon, intimidation.

Pablo Matera knows what I am on about. If Ireland need extra inspiration going to Twickenham - and we rarely do - then Pablo is our man.

“It is not respect,” Argentina’s captain told referee Angus Gardner after an early skirmish during Saturday’s historic victory over New Zealand. “I play for my country. That is not respect.”

The captain literally showed Gardner the Pumas crest. “They want to fight, we’ll fight” was his message to everyone listening on the PA and around the world. The meaning of these words resonated throughout the game. We are going to stand up to these All Blacks. We wear a famous jersey too.


Matera was the epitome of leadership. Sometimes winning in a team sport comes down to the simplest form of motivation. We will play whatever game you want to play and still prevail.

This ploy will not work at Twickenham, as Ireland have learned so many times in the past, but the sentiment remains important.

Ireland under Andy Farrell just need to be smarter. This has always been the way.

As you might have noticed, the Kiwis are not the best at swallowing a loss. John Kirwan’s moan about removing the sending-off rule for shots to the head was an embarrassing comment to hear from an ex-international. In defeat they always repeat the same scenario: congratulate the victors through gritted teeth and then turn on their own.

It was a performance that “shamed the legacy” of the All Blacks according to The New Zealand Herald. This sort of stuff is hilarious. The All Blacks didn’t shame their legacy, they were beaten fair and square by a team that had not played any rugby in over 400 days. It was an incredible achievement by Argentina.

We know only too well that revenge will be swift and violent but New Zealand are no longer miles ahead of the other tier one rugby nations.

I am certain Ireland will stand up to the bullies on Saturday

Back to Ireland, Farrell’s team cannot beat England in the same manner, especially at Twickenham. Argentina will fight you all day if that’s how you engage them. They will wrestle up front, scrummage to their hearts content, as Nicolas Sanchez clips over point after tortuous point.

Again, Ireland know about our South American friends only too well after the shattering defeats we suffered at the World Cups in 1999, 2007 and 2015. Each experience as painful as the next, Argentina shone a light on our deficiencies.

Stand up to the bullies

I am certain Ireland will stand up to the bullies on Saturday. Just like they did in Paris. The word Rassie Erasmus used to describe Ireland, while calling Wales “tough f**kers,” will have penetrated the Carton House bubble.

That is no harm. I was a Leinster player 15 years ago when people inside the province branded us as "soft". Another choice phrase was also used. These same supporters choose to wear the red jersey on European weekends.

We heard them. We saw them. So did Michael Cheika. We all concluded there was only one way to respond.

Cheika looked to be having the time of his life in the Argentina coach’s box on the weekend, alongside his old assistant turned temporary boss Mario Ledesma.

But, again, how Argentina beat New Zealand in Sydney is not how Ireland should go about handling England in London.

The same attitude is required but a more advanced strategy is essential.

The characteristics required to win a major Test match are set in stone. Hardness in the collision is a non-negotiable. If it was lacking from a single person in Ireland camp Farrell would weed him out (like Cheika did in the Leinster squad after his first season in charge).

Even the young players Farrell is flooding into the team cannot afford to show mental fragility. You can have a bad day, that’s part of learning, and you can make mistakes, but softness is not an option.

No Ireland team I have seen or played on was soft, Rassie.

This year Farrell has capped Ronán Kelleher, Caelan Doris, Will Connors, Hugo Keenan, Jamison Gibson-Park and James Lowe. These selections have little to do with hardness. That is a given for anyone who breaks into Leinster's European side. They have everything to do with their ability to put into practice what Mike Catt envisages as the best way of out-foxing Eddie Jones.

This is the litmus test for a very young squad. If, as Jones has suggested, playing Ireland is like stepping up to face Novak Djokovic in what he calls the defining game of the year, does that make England Rafa Nadal?

We refuse to give them Roger Federer status.

Be it England at home or Nadal on clay, one certainty has long been established: embracing the fight is well and good but trying to blast them off the court will guarantee only one result.

But Ryan must be allowed to lead by deed

In three victories at Twickenham - 2004, 2006 and 2010 - we matched them up front, and it can be said on at least one of those occasions, we had a more intimidating pack due to men like Paul O’Connell, John Hayes and David Wallace, but the trench warfare approach only gets an Ireland team so far.

We still needed our flashy backs to conjure up some special tries.

There is a blueprint for winning this fixture but, on the other hand, the humiliation suffered on St Patrick’s Day 2018 has seeped into the English psyche. That comprehensive defeat still rattles around Jones and some of the players’ minds.

The proof was visible in their attitude during the last three meetings. All that whooping and hollering when the smallest advantage went their way. The proof was also on the scoreboard.

England and Jones have rediscovered the direct route to overcoming Ireland. Saracens used all these ingredients to come out of their trilogy with Leinster as 2-1 winners.

Both sides of the Ireland scrum will be targeted. The lineout has been identified as a weakness, so expect enormous pressure to be put on Kelleher’s throw. France showed England how to handle the maul.

Baptism of fire

This is a baptism of fire for James Ryan’s captaincy.

But Ryan must be allowed to lead by deed. It is up to others to go with him. Farrell, I feel, has a huge role to play in the motivational stakes this week. Same applies to Peter O’Mahony, Cian Healy and Iain Henderson. They must fill the leadership void created by Johnny Sexton’s injury.

I remember, in 2004, Anthony Foley setting the emotional tone before we travelled over. In 2006, Shane Horgan did something similar. Sean O’Brien took on this mantle with inspirational words and actions.

The mantra was always the same: “We Do Not Lose This Match.”

The young Irish players hardly need to be educated about the importance of this fixture. They were reared on the rivalry. Half of them lost an under-20s World Cup final to England in 2016.

The senior men must inspire, but the coaches also need to deliver. They are a year in the gig now. Catt, in particular, has to transfer the offensive vision from his brain to the field, if there is any chance of victory over the old enemy.

In Farrell and Catt, Ireland have two former England players and coaches returning to Twickenham. That subplot will never grow old. Much will be learned about them from the team they select and from the way that team performs.

Progress has been slow in 2020, for obvious reasons, but there was evidence against Wales of where Catt’s attack intends to go.

Really, when we strip it all back, winning this game comes down to the personnel and what it means to each of them.

We do not want open warfare with this England pack. We want to embrace the oldest cliches in rugby. Punch clever. Move them about the park. Catch them off guard. Bring them to places they do not want to go.

Ross Byrne has earned the right to start this game

Box kicking and mauling will not work. The team is already moving away from that attitude but a reversion to old ways will lead to a tortuous afternoon.

If the officials paid any heed to the offside line last weekend Ireland would have put another 15, 20 points on Wales. The most encouraging sight was Caelan Doris running loop plays off Gibson-Park.

I wrote about this before Paris; Gibson-Park was not passing to static ball carriers. Doris broke the gainline and dominated the tackle because he took the possession at pace.

If Ireland are to out manoeuvre England and other bigger packs, it is vital that Doris remains at number eight. CJ Stander is the first name on the teamsheet but Peter O’Mahony has also earned the right to start. Will Connors is a valuable alternative but until the Ireland pack can comfortably carry an out and out openside they should just get the best backrowers onto the pitch.

Pick the team that goes after England, not the team that might be able to cope with them.

Speaking of opensides, on Monday night Dan Leavy had a superb first start for Leinster in 19 months. Too soon for Ireland but great to see.

Ross Byrne has earned the right to start this game and he brings a defensive solidity to a powerful looking Ireland backline. For all the trigger happy people on social media that are demanding to know what life will be like after Sexton, tune in Saturday to find out.

If Ireland win the “zero talent battles” they can drag England into a Test match. Make them respect the Irish crest again. Let Matera be Ryan’s inspiration when it comes to leading by word and deed.