Stuart Lancaster: Ireland can beat England at Twickenham
Leinster head coach believes Andy Farrell’s side have the personnel to upset the odds
Robbie Henshaw is tackled by Hadleigh Parkes during Ireland’s win over Wales. Photograph: Donall Farmer/PA
As someone who coached England for four years and is now in his fourth year coaching Leinster, Stuart Lancaster is better placed than most to run the rule over the pivotal meeting between England and Ireland at Twickenham in the Six Nations on Sunday week.
In five meetings with Ireland, Lancaster had a 4-1 win-loss record including three out of three at Twickenham, but he believes Ireland have a good chance after last Saturday’s 24-14 win over Wales.
“I was listening this morning on the radio and the bookies have England with a seven point advantage, apparently, and obviously playing at home at Twickenham, is a big factor. The previous game Ireland played at Twickenham was 50-odd points, so Ireland have a lot of work to do to improve on that performance that’s for sure,” said Lancaster in reference to England’s 57-15 World Cup warm-up win last August.
“I think Ireland can win, I do think that, because of the quality of players they’ve got, but I do think England improved - they didn’t play great in the first-half against France - in the second-half and obviously got a good win in very difficult conditions,” he said of England’s 13-6 win in horrific weather against Scotland last Saturday.
“They’ve got powerful players, they’ve got a good level of cohesion and organisation, and for them, first game at Twickenham, it could set them up as well. So I’m not going to put my money on any team at the moment. But I think it’ll be a great game.”
Lancaster’s former assistant/defence coach with England, Andy Farrell, takes Ireland back to Twickenham in his new role as Irish head coach against a side which, of course, is captained by his son Owen. It’s quite a remarkable if unusual narrative that is a tribute to the Farrell’s high achieving standards, never before seen in this fixture and never likely to be seen again.
Farrell senior has made a positive start, so much so that Ireland travel to London looking for a Triple Crown.
“He has, but I think that was never in doubt, from my point of view,” ventured Lancaster. “I think his time has come. In the first game, while people might have said Ireland didn’t play too well, I think they underestimated how well Scotland played - they bounced back from the World Cup. I think Scotland defend better under Steve Tandy, so I was delighted for Andy and the coaching team. The first two games, to be at home, is a real advantage - the real test is to come now, away from home.”
One of the most eye-catching performances from the dozen-strong Leinster contingent in Ireland’s win over Wales was by Robbie Henshaw.
Alongside Garry Ringrose, Henshaw has played at inside centre in all but four of his 39 starts for Leinster, with the last of his four games at 13 being a try-scoring effort against Montpellier in January last year. While he’s played at 13 slightly more often for Ireland, ironically Ringrose’s fractured thumb enabled Henshaw to remind us last Saturday of his footwork in the wider channel, and an eye-catching willingness to look for offloads.
“Robbie probably had his best game for Leinster this season against Ulster, just before Christmas,” said Lancaster. “That for me was a big turning point. He’s suffered with injuries, and the inconsistency of being able to train properly to be honest. But that game for me showed me the all round footballer that Robbie is.
“He’s got a good kicking game, as you saw, he’s got a great athletic ability, he’s quick, he’s got good hands, he can play 12 or 13, so I think if you pigeonhole him as a crash ball 12 you’re doing him a disservice.
“I don’t think anyone doubted his ability to play 12 or 13, and when Garry was injured he was an obvious replacement and I thought he more than proved his worth in the team. I was really chuffed for him that he got the chance, because he’d have been disappointed to be on the bench for the first game, but to come on and play the way he did, I’m sure he’ll play a big part in the next game, for sure.”
Leinster and Lancaster welcome back Ronan Kelleher, Will Connors, Luke McGrath and Dave Kearney for Saturday’s resumption of the Pro14 when they host the Cheetahs, third in Conference A behind Leinster and Ulster, at the RDS (kick-off 2.30pm).
“With no international rugby this weekend, it is an opportunity for people to come down and watch Leinster play; a lot of young lads making their mark as international players could be playing and we’ve got some experienced players who missed out like Rob Kearney and Fergus McFadden who want to prove a point as well. It is a big game for us and we’re hoping for a lot of support.
“They’re very good at unstructured rugby, very good on turnover, very good if you give them loose ball because they’ve got pace clearly, the way they score tries on the wings,” said Lancaster of the Cheetahs. “They have a good set-piece and they’re coming on the back of two good wins. They are third in the conference, very physical South African team, not to be underestimated at all.”