Liam Toland: Ireland need to keep England recycle above five to thrive

Saturday’s game will again be about small margins and there’s plenty of pointers

Joe Schmidt has announced the team to take on England this weekend. Robbie Henshaw will start at fullback and Josh van der Flier at openside. Video: David Dunne

 

Forget the Eddie Jones one-liner but do focus on his bottom line. He has coached England 35 times and has a Grand Slam and win percentage of 80 per cent.

It’s a highly impressive 74 per cent win for Joe Schmidt from his 62 matches with World Cup winner Clive Woodward forever stuck on 71 per cent.

Add the Vunipola brothers and Manu Tuilagi to Jones’s 80 per cent and Australia’s recent performances over both teams and Ireland have a genuine battle on their hands.

Australia lost to Ireland in a series because they lacked the skill-set under Irish pressure; England lost to Ireland because they lacked the discipline to execute their gameplan, and to execute Ireland when Ireland were on the ropes.

Events occur continuously in every match; more so at the elite level where one occurrence rapidly follows another. But how can one control the occurrences and contrive the outcome?

Andy Farrell is one such determinator. He dictates defensive outcomes that evolve long before that final tackle. Being exposed out wide has been a negative underbelly exposed by Argentina and others. But Farrell has many new options and the one I look forward to most on Saturday, especially with Kyle Sinckler and Manu Tuilagi’s power runs, is Ireland’s defence trading space for time. If the ultimate modern defensive strategy is to get off the line as an aggressive unit, what are you prepared to sacrifice for that – the breakdown or space?

Ireland adopt a variety of defensive methodologies; against Scotland’s first phase – especially lineouts – Ireland gifted Scotland space and great progress, letting them eat into Irish territory. But in fact Ireland were in classic war-like tactics, simply setting their defence for the final phase.

In Dublin last year, Scotland should have scored more often, but for mistake, as Farrell’ s Ireland defence literally and metaphorically trapped them. Alarmingly, more than once, Ireland conceded 40-50 metres in the specific knowledge that this trade off ensured the Irish defensive line would be set early and ready to violently explode off the line into the Scottish attack that only moments earlier had cut through Ireland with ease. With pressure comes mistakes. This is what Australia couldn’t cope with.

So what pressure can England place on Ireland on Saturday?

Team selection implies that England will aim to negate, counter and overpower Ireland. I don’t think Ireland have the defensive luxury of offering space to England, because of their ability to score off first phase with minimal passes.

Tuilagi is in the 12 inside centre jersey with Henry Slade in 13. but I expect them to swap in attack and give Owen Farrell a myriad of options targeting the Irish 10, 12 channel and the 12, 13 channel and forcing Garry Ringrose into big decisions, which consequently forces Robbie Henshaw into split-second defensive reads.

He’s quality but those rapidly changing occurrences are exactly what England want to expose on the new fullback; has he the answers? Tackle Tuilagi 10 times perfectly but miss him the 11th and fullback Elliot Daly or sub Chris Ashton will profit hugely. Slade also aids the English wide game distribution enormously; they have variety.

I am surprised that Daly is England’s 15 considering the aerial task that lies ahead. But maybe Jones expects the Conor Murray box kick to target his wingers. But at openside, England have not got Sam Underhill. One swallow does not a summer make but Underhill has the ability to mimic what Farrell’s defence did against Scotland. Trade something for a steal.

We know Ireland will out-ruck any team on the planet but what if the opposition were patient like Ireland’s defensive structure. What phase would Ireland’s breakdown become vulnerable? And where? Ireland beat England in Dublin two years’ ago because Peter O’Mahony stole one English lineout. The margins are that small that one steal becomes crucial. Can Tom Curry and Mark Wilson compensate?

Considering Ireland’s one-out rucking, Kyle Sinckler is one man you don’t want to walk into around the fringes. Carry into him at your peril. His role doesn’t end there as he’s a cracking second wave ball carrier also. Let big Mako Vunipola carry, clear out, and off a quick recycle scrumhalf will hit 10, who’ll have Sinckler bombing off his shoulder. The key is the English set-up initial breakdown. Can it concertina Irish defenders while ensuring a recycle of two seconds to get Sinckler running at an inset defence? This I fancy is why Josh van der Flier is starting.

What when Ireland build possession?

Horses for courses and all that but England will counter off long-rangers, which implies Ireland will keep the ball short; four seconds over 40 metres.

Boring? Hardly; remember Eddie’s 80 per cent win ratio is built on a scrumhalf that consistently outkicks his Irish counterpart: ditto their outhalf.

What role of the English No 12 in defence? Against Australia it was to shut the door very quick on Australia’s wide game where Ben Te’o was very fast off the line to get into that space between 10 and 12. This was designed to test Australia’s wide passing, which struggled hugely to execute.

How do you get the ball wide under this defensive pressure? The famed Sexton circle, with the Irish diamonds providing the inbuilt options. But watch Jonny May flying up off his openside wing in defence hedging his bets, a very risky play.

It’s Jones’s 80 per cent versus Schmidt’s 74 per cent win ratio but regardless of any other statistic; keep England’s recycle above five seconds and Ireland will win.

See you in the RDS tonight for the Ireland v England Legends! Do join us. . . liamtoland@yahoo.com

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