Liam Toland: England will aim to dominate corridor of power
Eddie Jones has changed his entire rugby vision with his new selection for Saturday
There are players who are Joe Schmidt players. James Ryan is one, so he gets promoted fast. Others include Rhys Ruddock, Dan Leavy, Devon Toner, Fergus McFadden and especially Rob Kearney. These players are quality internationals that Schmidt has developed and enhanced over the term of his 54 internationals.
Ireland stand on the brink of a Grand Slam. To get to this point, each Schmidt prototype player must fit the Aer Lingus baggage frame to get on the plane. If you don’t fit the Schmidt frame you don’t go to Twickenham. What is the Eddie Jones baggage frame? Who would be tolerated by Schmidt? And then Jones changes his entire rugby vision with his new selection. How does he sell this to his players, his new vision? I’m confused.
The best Irish players have always been selected for Ireland, but with the exception of the halfbacks Schmidt prototype players may not have been Irish first-choices years back. Players like Jordi Murphy, arguably Leinster’s fifth-choice wing forward, had a massive impact against Scotland. He fits Schmidt’s baggage frame.
How many of Jones’s players have this capacity? There’s Owen Farrell (certainly) and Courtney Lawes (hardly), but haven’t they been following Jones’s rugby template? Neither flash nor force, especially at the breakdown. Schmidt’s culture ensures Murphy et al step up where Jones can’t find first-choice club players, especially wing forwards, to adapt to international level. Whose fault is that?
Momentum is huge in the Six Nations. England have none and have had a terrible breakdown, so bad against Scotland that many proclaimed Scotland’s to be brilliant. Not so. Joe Launchbury was a disgrace in Edinburgh, ditto Lawes, but they were the effect where the cause was far worse – the English ball carrier. They received from deep and at times “strolled” to the gainline where their team-mates failed to read the vulnerability this ball-carrying technique created. It handed Scotland the advantage.
In this time lull and intellectual dearth, England failed to resource their ball carrier and latch on, etc . . . hence the multiple turnovers and a plus-five second recycle. Crucially this is clearly an assumed English tactic – win the collision and all you’ll need is one clear-out player. That’s two English players committed, 13 attackers remaining with Farrell and the scapegoated George Ford dictating proceedings.
Considering Six Nations teams commit to the tackle area the numerical advantage remains with England. But, and it’s a big but, England have not dominated the carry and their problems mounted from there. Ford has paid the price.
The English tactical balance has been all wrong. Their backrow is improved but lacks balanced footballers and the crucial spine – 8, 9, 10 and 12 – was not balanced; massive improvement is needed tomorrow!
Add to that the Lions and player management effect impacting Maro Itoje. Will all this count? England will paper over these cracks because they are at home and when they click they can play. But how will they play? Ireland have the players and game to manage the obvious onslaught. Will Ireland win? I think so, if they neutralise England’s new centre of gravity.
Where might that be? Regardless of Jones's flip-flopping, it’s where it has always been the past 100 years – in the corridor of power. A massive physicality blitzing all and sundry in the corridor, with a crucial recycle of three seconds. Then Farrell will do damage. If England fix that first contact in the corridor of power everything changes. To see this in action watch Farrell’s try against Scotland. Mako Vunipola smashes up on his terms and Farrell offers an immediate rewind down the blindside off a sub three-second recycle and powers across untouched. They can do this tomorrow. They will do this tomorrow.
Kick and clap rugby
Kick and clap rugby is how Eddie Jones has framed Irish rugby. Is he right? No. English scrumhalves are far more likely to kick the ball than Conor Murray’s patented box kick. Then there’s Johnny Sexton, the driver behind Ireland going forward. However, Sexton is the least likely Six Nations outhalf to kick the ball. England will outkick him tomorrow. And considering the volumes of possession Ireland enjoy they should be kicking it far more than most – but they don’t.
England will also punt more than Ireland’s other kicking pivots at 12 and 15. England are the kick and clappers! Is this a bad thing? Not at all, because they do other things that totally balance out the stats. For instance, they have the ability to score much faster than Ireland and with far less effort. They score tries with far fewer passes – two and three is all they need – if they dominate the corridor of power.
In the opening 15 minutes against Scotland Ireland found new points of contact through their props in midfield. But when Gregor Townsend’s side pressurised, Ireland concertinaed their wider attack into narrow power plays.
What will Ireland do when England’s power comes out to play? Style doesn’t matter as long as it dominates the opposition. But Ireland are vulnerable should England prove capable when Ireland turn over possession in the opposition’s half, specifically between their 22 and 10 metre line. Then two big passes will get the ball away – look back at Stuart Hogg’s try that wasn’t.
When Ireland face a fast transitioning team from one side of the pitch in that zone we are vulnerable. This transition and the corridor of power is where tomorrow is won and lost.
PS The Stoop this evening . . . Legends and pints afterwards!