Simon Easterby laughs off English jibes about Ireland ‘kicking game’
Forwards’ coach says squad’s entire focus remains on their own game plan
Simon Easterby: “It’s something that he feels is a strategy to try and get us to change, to do something different or react to it, but we can’t fall into that trap.” Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Eddie Jones has been having some fun portraying Ireland as one-dimensional purveyors of a kicking game. Following on from his quip about bringing in an Aussie Rules team for practice sessions against his whiter than white English team, Jones’s estimate that Ireland kick the ball out of hand has risen almost by the day, from 60 per cent to 70 per cent. But Simon Easterby has emulated Joe Schmidt’s lead in wryly laughing off the jibes.
If Jones is attempting to rile his Irish counterparts, it’s unlikely to have any impact whatsoever. In fact, the official Accenture RBS Six Nations stats have shown that England have kicked 36 per cent of their possession in their wins over Scotland and Italy, whereas Ireland have kicked 23 per cent and 24 per cent of possession in their two games.
But hey, why let the facts get in the way of a good yarn?
“Yeah, it looks a little high to me,” said Easterby of the 70 per cent estimate with a smile at the Carton House Hotel in Maynooth yesterday. “I’d say probably half that would be more accurate. It’s something that’s been thrown out there most games before a match by some people.”
Noting that kicking has “been part of their strategy, not dissimilar to what we came up with against Wales”, Easterby added that England have scored tries in both games to date through their kicking game.
Easterby played down any notion that, as Jones has also stated, England’s opponents are motivated by “hatred”.
“Again, things have been sort of thrown out there. And there’s obviously a response wanted from that. There’s always an edge to an England-Ireland match. And having been lucky enough to have played in a few of those, I know what it means to play in them.”
“It’s a really important fixture for us at this stage and for them. That’s really our main focus – how important the fixture is for us right now. The history is the history and we’ll never forget that. But it’s important that we focus on the here and the now, and the 80 minutes that’s in front of us on Saturday.”
Easterby’s counterpart for the first time is Steve Borthwick, and anybody who can help make the Japanese lineout maul a weapon against a Springbok pack deserves respect. The presence of Borthwick is a challenge the Irish forwards coach welcomed.
“Every week has its own challenges whether as a forward pack or at scrum-time or maul-time, in particular they are the areas we can live and die by in terms of gaining dominance within the forward pack . . .There’s always a little bit of trickery going on and that’s great, that’s what the game is about as coaches, trying to work out what they might do and vice-versa to unnerve them a little bit in terms of what we might do.”
Curiously though, the Irish maul – such a weapon in the last two title-winning campaigns – has largely been kept under wraps since the World Cup pool win over France, ie, Paul O’Connell’s last game.
Donnacha Ryan is likely to become Devin Toner’s latest partner, or possibly the uncapped Ultan Dillane, in the absence of Mike McCarthy, while there is a choice at openside in the absence of Seán O’Brien, with Cian Healy and Mike Ross also to return to the squad.
The main issue in the backline will be the fitness or otherwise of Jared Payne. Easterby reported that the hamstrung Payne trained at “85 to 90 per cent” on Monday, but was rested yesterday. This might appear to be a setback, but Easterby maintained a day’s rest and physiotherapy may prove the most profitable in ensuring he is passed fit tomorrow.